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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02532

The thin white line: Adaptation suggests a common neural mechanism for judgements of Asian and Caucasian body size

  • 1Department of Psychology, Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia
  • 2Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Australia
  • 3Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Malaysia Sabah, Malaysia
  • 4Perception in Action Research Centre, Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia
  • 5Centre for Rural Health, College of Health and Medicine, University of Tasmania, Australia
  • 6Centre for Health Research, School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, Australia

Visual adaptation has been proposed as a mechanism linking viewing images of thin women’s bodies with body size and shape misperception (BSSM). Non-Caucasian populations appear less susceptible to BSSM, possibly because adaptation to thin Caucasian bodies in Western media may not fully transfer to own-race bodies. Experiment 1 used a cross-adaptation paradigm to examine the transfer of body size aftereffects across races. Large aftereffects were found in the predicted directions for all conditions. The strength of aftereffects was statistically equivalent when the race of test stimuli was congruent vs incongruent with the race of adaptation stimuli, suggesting complete transfer of aftereffects across races. Experiment 2 used a contingent-adaptation paradigm, finding that simultaneous adaptation to wide Asian and narrow Caucasian women’s bodies (or vice versa) results in no significant aftereffects for either congruent or incongruent conditions, and statistically equivalent results for each. Equal and opposite adaptation effects may therefore transfer completely across races, cancelling each other out. This suggests that body size is encoded by a race-general neural mechanism. Unexpectedly, Asian observers showed reduced body size aftereffects compared to Caucasian observers, regardless of the race of stimulus bodies, perhaps helping to explain why Asian populations appear less susceptible to BSSM.

Keywords: Body perception, visual adaptation, Visual aftereffects, Cross-cultural, body image, Body Size

Received: 30 May 2019; Accepted: 25 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Gould-Fensom, Tan, Brooks, Mond, Stevenson and Stephen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Ian D. Stephen, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, 2109, New South Wales, Australia,