Women with bad body image could improve how they feel about themselves by listening to the sound of their own heartbeat, a new study suggests.
The small study of 50 healthy women aged between 19 and 26 showed that when participants were asked to listen to and count out loud their own heartbeat, those who were able to do this more accurately were also less likely to have a poor body image.
Researchers from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, assessed this by asking participants to also self rate how significant they considered 10 body attributes. These attributes fell into two groups: appearance-based traits, like attractiveness and body measurements, and qualities like perceived health and energy levels.
The researchers found that those who were more aware of their own heartbeat were more likely to value wellness over physical appearance, and researchers believe that these findings could have important implications for future study and for treating body dysmorphia conditions and objectification disorders like anorexia.
Researcher Dr Manos Tsakiris from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway is quoted as saying, “People have the remarkable ability to perceive themselves from the perspective of an outside observer. However, there is a danger that some women can develop an excessive tendency to regard their bodies as ‘objects’, while neglecting to value them from within, for their physical competence and health. Women who ‘self-objectify’, in this way, are vulnerable to eating disorders and a range of other clinical conditions such as depression and sexual dysfunction.”
Fellow researcher Vivien Ainley is quoted as saying that this research could in time provide an insight in how to treat certain mental health problems that are linked with body issues, adding, “We believe that our measure of body awareness, which assesses how well women are able to listen to their internal signals, will prove a valuable addition to research into self-objectification and women’s resulting mental health.”
Interestingly, the researchers say this evidence may in fact point to a need to rethink the cause of this self-objectification, something that is at the root of many body image-linked disorders.
The common consensus has been that self-objectification is a result of a preoccupation with the “seen” body. However, Tsakiris and Ainley believe their findings show that it is the other way around, that poor interoceptive awareness (how aware one is of one’s health) is a result of self-objectification†that often comes hand-in-hand with what the researchers call public body consciousness which, for these purposes, refers to mass media portrayals of desirability.
To be clear, this study is nowhere near large enough to offer concrete proof of what the researchers are discussing, but it points the way toward more in depth research that could, in time, help to better tackle serious psychological problems that are linked with body image.
Women, of course, are not the only ones who suffer body image issues. In recent years, concerns have been raised that body issues among men appear to be more common, though whether this is simply because such issues are being reported more by men who at last feel it is acceptable to talk about such feelings remains unclear.
Whether raising interoceptive awareness could be beneficial to men would require further study, but certainly there is evidence of self-objectification problems and a need to tackle this issue, with one recent study showing men would go so far as to give up a year of their lives in order to have what they considered the “perfect body.”
The heartbeat study is published in the online journal Plos One.
Image credit: Thinkstock.