People suffering from body dysmorphic disorder perceive themselves as ugly, fixating on a slight abnormality or an imagined flaw. The condition can lead to repeated plastic surgery and increased risk of suicide. This distorted self-image may not result solely from society's focus on appearance but from a visual brain glitch that literally makes people see the world differently. Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, outfitted 12 patients with goggles that showed digital images of faces. These pictures were either untouched photographs, line drawings of faces, or images that had freckles, wrinkles and other facial details blurred out. Functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that people with the disorder used their brain's left side—the part attuned to complex details—more often than normal. These findings could one day help retrain brains to perceive faces more accurately. Face up to it in the December 2007 Archives of General Psychiatry.
This article was originally published with the title "Brain of the Beholder" in Scientific American 298, 2, 29 (February 2008)