Internal images of ourselves can deviate from what others see and this can be affected by our beliefs about our personality and our self-esteem.
Researchers at Bangor University’s School of Human and Behavioral Sciences have devised a way to access people’s mental image of themselves, and, for the first time, compare that image to reality .
Your beliefs determine your self-image
In the team’s research, mental images of participants’ own faces were reconstructed using a technique that has been used in the past to help psychologists visualize how we see things mentally.
Basically, what is done is that the participants see two faces at random and each time they must choose the one that most closely resembles their own face, a process that is repeated several hundred times . In the end, the researchers can average all the images that people thought were most like themselves, and that allows them to visualize the "mental selfies" of the participants.
This is how they discovered that beliefs about themselves strongly affected the way they imagined their own appearance. For example, if a person believed they were outgoing, they imagined their own faces as more confident and sociable than they appeared to other people.
And this is what happens to the body
In a second study, the team used the same approach to visualize people’s mental images of their own body shape . They found not only that people had unrealistic mental images of their own bodies, but that these mental images were heavily influenced by their attitudes towards themselves rather than their true appearance.
People who had very negative emotional attitudes towards their own appearance tended to imagine themselves with a much larger body than in reality.
Adapting this method could provide clinicians who support people with body image disorders with a new tool to measure whether therapies have been successful . Currently, this is commonly assessed using questionnaires that assess whether the patient’s negative self-beliefs have changed.
After all, not only beauty is important to know how others will treat us. It is also crucial if we ourselves feel attractive or not, and also if we feel better or worse than the rest :