Are we the best at judging our own attractiveness? New research shows we aren’t.
For a new study, researchers at the Experimental Virtual Environments (EVENT) Lab at the University of Barcelona in Spain examined the difference between how we believe we look and how we view our own body from an outsider’s perspective.
What they found was that people rate their own body more negatively when embodied in it, compared to viewing their exact same body as an outsider.
So, how exactly do we view our own body as an outsider?
The researchers set out to answer this by recruiting 11 men and 12 women from the University of Barcelona. Participants filled out one questionnaire on eating disorders and one on body shape perception.
The research team then used virtual reality to create three virtual bodies, known as avatars, for each participant. One was based on how participants indicated measurements of their own body as their own image of it; one was based on their ideal body shape; and one was based on their real body measurements.
Once these computer models were created, participants were immersed in virtual reality to view these three avatars from two different perspectives — first-person (how we see our own bodies day to day) or third-person (how others in public would see us).
They were then asked to rate the attractiveness of each of these virtual bodies.
“Our results suggest that a change in perspective affected the evaluation of the attractiveness of a virtual body,” said lead author Dr. Solène Neyret. “For female participants, when the same virtual body was perceived from a third person perspective, it was evaluated as more attractive than when it was perceived from a first-person perspective.”
“Importantly, we also observed that the internal representation that people create of their own body is highly inaccurate,” she added.
The researchers found that individuals’ prior beliefs about “the self” may be responsible for this effect, preventing people from accurately judging their real appearance.
The researchers also noted that the “ideal body” described by participants often had similar physical attributes. This points towards the predominance of an “ideal body shape” within the study’s cultural environment, the researchers noted.
By using virtual reality, the researchers were able to give participants a new perspective on themselves — in more than just a physical sense. The gap between the reality of how we look versus how we perceive how we look can often be at the root of many body perception disorders, the researchers said, adding these techniques may have future applications for treatment.
“By showing their real body to our female participants from a third person perspective, it appeared more attractive to them than when the same body was seen from a first-person perspective,” Neyret said. “We believe that this method can be particularly efficient for increasing body satisfaction in patients with eating disorders.”
“This method could help patients to understand the biased representation they have of their own body,” she said. “This knowledge could re-orientate their attention to the real features of their body shape in a more accurate and objective way, that isn’t affected by the negative prior beliefs they have about themselves.”
By being able to see ourselves as from an outside perspective, we might learn to get a more objective perception of our bodies, and start to live with a healthier and more accurate body image, the researchers concluded.
The study was published in Frontiers in Robotics and AI.