Women who are highly dissatisfied with their body shape or size are more likely to spend time looking at their slimmer counterparts, research suggests.
The findings, published in the journal Body Image, are based on analysis of 34 studies involving nearly 3,000 women.
University of Bristol experts found women unhappy with their bodies showed an “attentional bias” – where they gazed more frequently and for longer towards those who were thinner than them.
Displaying an attentional bias towards low-weight bodies may exacerbate feelings of body dissatisfaction, the researchers said.
Thea House, the study’s lead author and a PhD student at the University of Bristol and Macquarie University in Australia, said: “Body dissatisfaction is a risk factor for eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and purging disorder.
“It is also a key diagnostic symptom of anorexia nervosa.
“Women experiencing body dissatisfaction may be worsening it by spending more time looking at thinner body sizes.”
The researchers looked at data from 2,857 women – with an average age ranging from 18-25 years – who took part in a range of attentional bias tasks such as gaze tracking.
Ms House said: “Our findings have implications for the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and suggest that interventions such as attention training tasks, which have been used to improve symptoms of anxiety, could be adapted to treat symptoms of eating disorders by shifting attention away from thin body sizes.
“These types of task can be completed on a home computer so they have the potential to be a practical and cost-effective treatment option for people with these disorders.”