The functional body: does body representation reflect functional properties?

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There is a growing interest in the distortions of body representation in healthy population and most studies have focused their attention on specific parts of the body, such as the hands. Only three studies have considered the representation of the body as a whole. Findings, acquired by different means of assessment methods, are partially contrasting, leading to different interpretations. The present study aims to investigate which aspects of body representation can be preserved regardless of the method adopted and whether current and previous findings can be explained by a unique theoretical model. In Experiments 1a and 1b, we adopted a modified version of the Body Image Task to investigate body representations in real scale and the relationship of its parts. Participants judged the location of body landmarks by pointing on their own silhouette imagined on a wall in front of them. In Experiment 2, we investigated (i) whether the pattern of distortions observed in the first experiment are maintained across different methods by asking participants to estimate the veracity and proportionality of the length of their own body parts; and (ii) whether similar distortions can be generalized to stereotypical representations. Overall, we observed a consistent pattern of distortions, whereby upper body limbs are underestimated and lower parts of the body are overestimated across all experiments and conditions. These findings are then interpreted as the result of a functional relationship between body parts and daily actions, which underlie a close modulation of body schema and body image. This interpretation offers a reconciliation of seemingly contradictory findings in the literature and supports to the co-construction model (Pitron et al. in Conscious Cognit 65:352–358, 2018).

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We like to thank Dr. Guido Org for providing the ‘avatar’ stimuli and Dr. Rebekah Jamieson-Craig for proof-reading our manuscript.

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Correspondence to Pietro Caggiano.

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Communicated by Francesco Lacquaniti.

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Caggiano, P., Cocchini, G. The functional body: does body representation reflect functional properties?. Exp Brain Res 238, 153–169 (2020).

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  • Body representation
  • Body image
  • Body schema
  • Body action
  • Bodily awareness
  • Posture