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The Sight of Virtual Food Triggers Stress in people with Eating Disorders

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Researchers discovered that food presented in a virtual reality (VR) environment causes the same emotional responses as real food. Researchers compared the responses of people with anorexia and bulimia, and a control group, to the virtual and real-life snacks, suggesting that virtual food can be used for the evaluation and treatment of eating disorders.

Clinical Study

The study included 10 people with anorexia, 10 people with bulimia and 10 control participants, all women, were initially shown a series of six real high-calorie foods placed on a table in front of them. “Their heart rate and skin conductance, as well as their psychological stress were measured during the exposure. This process was then repeated with a slideshow of the same foods, and a VR trip into a computer-generated diner where they could interact with the virtual version of the same six items.

The Results

The individual’s level of stress was statistically identical whether in virtual reality or real exposure. Therefore, just looking at food can trigger stress in people with eating disorders.

Source: Alessandra Gorini, Eric Griez, Anna Petrova and Giuseppe Riva. Assessment of the emotional responses produced by exposure to real food, virtual food and photographs of food in patients affected by eating disorders. Annals of General Psychiatry, 2010