Self Perception Projects

Our “Imagination Lab” studies the phenomenon of self perception; how do we relate to our own bodies and comprehend physically existing?

Kirsten McKenzie is currently involved in a study looking at the ways in which people perceive their own bodies and faces. Keep an eye on the Get Involved section if you are interesting in participating!

Body Image Projects

Body image in women with anorexia nervosa

A key symptom of anorexia nervosa (AN) is an overestimation of body size compared to control subjects, with women with AN consistently overestimating their own body size and having a markedly thinner ideal body size than control subjects. Body image distortion has been shown to be one of the most persistent of all the eating disorder symptoms, the severity of which seems to predict the long-term treatment outcome. Furthermore, this persistence predicts the rate of relapse which may be as high as 40% over the first 12-months post-discharge from treatment.

To treat this feature of AN and reduce relapse rates, we have developed a novel training program to recalibrate people’s concept of what constitutes a normal body size away from an unhealthy thin ideal back towards the healthy body size preferences seen in control participants. In a pilot study, the program successfully recalibrated the body size preferences of women with AN and reduced their body size and eating disordered concerns. We are now starting a full randomized control trial of the training in collaboration with the Eating Disorder Service of the Lincoln Partnership NHS Trust. This training program has the potential to be a valuable cost-effective adjunctive treatment for AN, which may be used together with more traditional talking therapies (e.g. CBT, mindfulness).

Understanding Body Image Distortion in Men

Perceptual body image distortion (BID) is often characterized by altered self-perceptions and has been assessed in the past using a variety of scales. However, due to the link between BID and eating disordered pathology, research within female populations has taken precedence. Consequently, body shape measurement scales employed within male populations are far less developed and are severely limited by poor imagery. Male body shape derives from a complex interaction between three attributes: adiposity, muscle mass and muscle tone. Therefore, there is a need to develop biometrically accurate, ecologically valid images with which to measure men’s estimates of body size and shape. To do this, we are combining 3D body shape scanning technology with state of the art body composition measurements (bio-impedance) to generate the required high quality, CGI stimuli. Using these images in conjunction with psychophysical techniques and a battery of psychometric measures, we are investigating the perceptual, psychological and social dimensions of male body image, in health and disease.

The Cross-cultural Perception of Body Image and the Influence of the Media

While evidence strongly suggests that media exposure drives the preference for a slim female body, the ubiquitous nature of the media via TV, print and electronic devices in Western countries means that experiments manipulating media exposure often face the problem of ceiling effects (i.e. individuals already have so much media exposure, that additional exposure has little or no effect on their body perception). However, in parts of Nicaragua there still exists considerable variation in TV access: some villages have no mains electricity and thus very limited potential for TV access, while other villages are connected to the national grid and therefore have relatively high media access. This situation allows us to make cross-sectional and longitudinal comparisons of the relative impact of TV on people’s preferences for ideal body size and shape.

Development of the MapMe body image scales of known weight status for 4-5 and 10-11 year old children

Parents have an important role to play in childhood obesity prevention, yet their ability to recognise unhealthy weight status in children is limited. Parents tend to use visual assessments when determining child weight status and so typically underestimate child size. We have developed a visual tool to aid more accurate assessment of child weight status with visual images of known weight status for children, based on UK criteria. Sex- and age-specific body image scales of known weight status were created for 4-5 and 10-11 year old children according to British growth reference (UK90) criteria. The body image scales have potential in combatting the childhood obesity epidemic via use by the public, health professionals and the scientific community. The scales have been tested in a trial to assess their impact on parental recognition of whether a childhood is overweight, and they improve parental action to maintain healthy weight in their child and child weight status.

Emotion Recognition Projects

Petra Pollux’s project is concerned with the processing of social cues for emotion processing, a skill vital for social interaction and social survival. With a specific focus on whole body expression of emotions, we use a range of methodologies (e.g. behavioural measures, ERP, gaze-tracking) in studies with different populations (children, older adults, people with Parkinson’s disease) to explore the role of simulation processes, executive functions and personality traits in the ability to recognize emotional state in others.


Alexander P Wilmott (PhD): School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Lincoln

Ellen Polliakoff (PhD): Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, University of Manchester.


Face Recognition Projects

Our ability to recognise familiar people across different, even very degraded images, is remarkably good, and yet we are surprisingly poor at unfamiliar face recognition. We have previously argued that this is due to within-person variability, and our lack of knowledge regarding how an unfamiliar person’s face can vary (Burton et al., 2016, Cognitive Science; Kramer et al., 2017, Visual Cognition; Ritchie et al., 2015, Cognition). We are currently investigating unfamiliar face recognition and ways in which it may be improved using multiple-image arrays and face averages in both lab and live paradigms. We are also looking at identification from lineups, and identifying people in crowds. We work closely with face recognition researchers at other universities, both in the UK and around the world. For a fun take on some of our recent work, have a look at our Geek Studies article or our piece in The Conversation.Key funding:

Ritchie (PI) & Fitzgerald (Co-I, Portsmouth), Experimental Psychology Society, £3,500

Kramer, Experimental Psychology Society, £3,500