Beauty lies in the eyes of an ‘outsider’

A group of researchers has found 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 experts from the Experimental Virtual Environments (EVENT) Lab at the University of Barcelona — who got their study published in Frontiers in Robotics and AI — 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 Solene Neyret.

“Importantly, we also observed that the internal representation that people create of their own body is highly inaccurate,” Neyret adds.

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.

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