Purvis, C.K., Jones, M., Bailey, J.O., Bailenson, J., Taylor, C.B. (2015). Developing a novel measure of body satisfaction using virtual reality. PLoS ONE, 10(10):e0140158.
Body image disturbance (BID), considered a key feature in eating disorders, is a pervasive issue among young women. Accurate assessment of BID is critical, but the field is currently limited to self-report assessment methods. In the present study, we build upon existing research, and explore the utility of virtual reality (VR) to elicit and detect changes in BID across various immersive virtual environments. College-aged women with elevated weight and shape concerns (n = 38) and a non-weight and shape concerned control group (n = 40) were randomly exposed to four distinct virtual environments with high or low levels of body salience and social presence (i.e., presence of virtual others). Participants interacted with avatars of thin, normal weight, and overweight body size (BMI of approximately 18, 22, and 27 respectively) in virtual social settings (i.e., beach, party). We measured state-level body satisfaction (state BD) immediately after exposure to each environment. In addition, we measured participants’ minimum interpersonal distance, visual attention, and approach preference toward avatars of each size. Women with higher baseline BID reported significantly higher state BD in all settings compared to controls. Both groups reported significantly higher state BD in a beach with avatars as compared to other environments. In addition, women with elevated BID approached closer to normal weight avatars and looked longer at thin avatars compared to women in the control group. Our findings indicate that VR may serve as a novel tool for measuring state-level BID, with applications for measuring treatment outcomes. Implications for future research and clinical interventions are discussed.