Virtual reality to address eating disorders



For some, body image can be intricately linked to the development of an eating disorder such as bulimia, anorexia nervosa or binge eating. The recent work carried out by the team led by Johana Monthuy-Blanc, researcher in the Department of Education at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, reveals that virtual reality could play a role in prevention and care. 

The key advantage of the method is that participants first consider the body shapes from the third-person perspective, and then from the first-person point of view.

Body image assessments generally rely on a questionnaire based on drawings of silhouettes. But in her study conducted in collaboration with Loricorps, an interdisciplinary disordered eating research laboratory, Johana Monthuy-Blanc chose to use cybercorps technology instead. The 130 participants wore an Oculus virtual reality headset to gauge their own physical appearance in relation to seven silhouettes, from thinnest to most overweight. The key advantage of the method is that participants first consider the body shapes from the third-person perspective, as if in a mirror, and then from the first-person point of view, as if they were looking down at their own body—an immersive experience that is far closer to reality than paper silhouettes.   

The test includes a questionnaire on the body shapes so that participants can identify the body that most looks like their own and the one they idealize. Researchers can then determine whether a person perceives herself or himself as much larger or smaller than reality and evaluate the degree of body dissatisfaction.

Johana Monthuy-Blanc's research is contributing to the development of more accurate assessments of the risks of experiencing an eating disorder and could eventually lead to innovative intervention methods to support sufferers.