McLean study shows different levels of body image distortion in Taiwan, United States and Europe

March 23rd, 2005

A study recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that Taiwanese men show much less distortion of their body image than men in the United States and Europe. The findings may explain why muscle dysmorphia (a form of body image disorder) and anabolic steroid abuse are such serious problems in Western societies, but are rarely seen in Asia.

The researchers, led by Chi-Fu Jeffrey Yang and Harrison Pope, Jr., M.D., director of McLean's Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, administered a computerized test asking 55 male university students in Taiwan to choose pictures corresponding to their own bodies, the body they would like to have, the body of an average Taiwanese male, and the body that Taiwanese women would prefer. They then compared these results to those previously obtained in an identical study in the U.S. and Europe.

The Western men estimated that women preferred a male body with 20 to 30 pounds more muscle than an average man. But when Western women were asked to choose the male body that they liked, they selected an ordinary male body without all of the added muscle. By contrast, the Taiwanese men did not show this distortion: they correctly recognized that women did not prefer a bulked-up male body.

These findings suggest that Western men may have a very distorted view of what they ideally should look like, whereas men in Taiwan don't seem to have this distorted self-image. Furthermore, these factors may explain why body dysmorphic disorder and anabolic steroid abuse are far more serious in the West than in Taiwan and throughout the Pacific rim.

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