The Effect of Self-Focused Attention and Mood on Appearance Dissatisfaction after Mirror-Gazing: An Experimental Study

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Background and objectives Self-focused attention is hypothesized to be a maintenance factor in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). The aim of this study was to use an experimental paradigm to test this hypothesis by studying the effect of self-focused attention during mirror-gazing on appearance dissatisfaction. Methods An experimental group design was used, in which 173 women were randomly allocated to one of three conditions before mirror-gazing for two minutes: (a) external focus of attention, (b) self-focus of attention, and (c) self-focus of attention with a negative mood induction. Results After mirror-gazing, participants across all groups rated themselves as being more dissatisfied with their appearance. In both the self-focus conditions, there was an increase in sadness from pre to post mirror gazing, and there was a significant difference in focus of attention for participants in the self-focused, mood-induced group from pre to post manipulation, suggesting mood induction had more of an effect than focus of attention. Limitations (1) there was no condition involving an external focus with a negative mood induction, and (2) due to the level of information provided to patients on the nature of the task, we cannot rule out demand characteristics as an influencing factor on our results. Conclusions Self-focused attention during mirror-gazing may act indirectly to increase appearance dissatisfaction via the effect of negative mood. Further studies are required to establish the relative contribution of self-focused attention and negative mood to increases in appearance dissatisfaction as a function of mirror-gazing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-44
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Issue number1
Early online date10 Mar 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Mar 2016


  • body dysmorphic disorder
  • self-focused attention
  • mirror gazing
  • mood induction


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