Summary: Virtual reality study reveals we perceive ourselves as more attractive when we view ourselves from a third-person perspective.
Are we the best at judging our own attractiveness?
New research out in Frontiers in Robotics and AI shows that we might not be after all. Researchers from the Experimental Virtual Environments (EVENT) Lab at the University of Barcelona 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 except 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 team used virtual reality to create three virtual bodies (“avatars”) for each participant: one based on how participants indicated measurements of their own body as their own image of it, one based on their ideal body shape, and one 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 (like 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. 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,” says lead author Dr. Solène Neyret.
“Importantly, we also observed that the internal representation that people create of their own body is highly inaccurate.”
The researchers found that individuals’ prior beliefs about ‘the self’ may be responsible for this effect and could prevent people from accurately judging their real appearance. Interestingly, the researchers also noted that the “ideal body” described by participants often had similar physical attributes one to another. This points towards the predominance of an ‘ideal body shape’ within the study’s cultural environment.
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, and the techniques described here 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. We believe that this method can be particularly efficient for increasing body satisfaction in patients with eating disorders”, states Neyret.
“This method could help patients to understand the biased representation they have of their own body. 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”, says Neyret.
Which Body Would You Like to Have? The Impact of Embodied Perspective on Body Perception and Body Evaluation in Immersive Virtual Reality
In this experiment, we aimed to measure the conscious internal representation of one’s body appearance and allow the participants to compare this to their ideal body appearance and to their real body appearance. We created a virtual representation of the internal image participants had of their own body shape. We also created a virtual body corresponding to the internal representation they had of their ideal body shape, and we built another virtual body based on their real body measures. Participants saw the three different virtual bodies from an embodied first-person perspective and from a third-person perspective and had to evaluate the appearance of those virtual bodies. We observed that female participants evaluated their real body as more attractive when they saw it from a third-person perspective, and that their level of body dissatisfaction was lower after the experimental procedure. We believe that third-person perspective allowed female participants to perceive their real body shape without applying the negative prior beliefs usually associated to the “self”, and that this resulted in a more positive evaluation of their body shape. We speculate that this method could be applied with patients suffering from eating disorders, by making their body perception more realistic and therefore improve their body satisfaction.