Body Schema and Body Image: History and Controversies

  • Massimo Cuzzolaro


Disorders of body experience may be associated with evident lesions and diseases affecting the nervous system or be part of some psychiatric syndromes without established neurobiological alterations. They challenge the descriptive classifications of mental disorders. Current medical and psychological literature identify a large number of different phenomena as body image or body schema disturbances. Some authors suggested that the term body schema should primarily indicate the unconscious motor and postural control of one’s own body, while body image should be firstly concerned with the conscious appraisal of one’s own physical appearance. However, there are no reliable definitions of these two notions that were and are often used interchangeably, as synonyms, in a confused way. Body schema and body image are metaphorical expressions. They refer to constructs—abstract concepts made up by scientists—that should not be reified and treated as a concrete thing or a real process existing independently of the researcher. These umbrella terms cover an extensive and heterogeneous range of neuropsychological phenomena and pathological disruptions of body awareness, in the borderland between neurology and psychiatry, from the phantom limb and the anosognosia to the anorexia nervosa and the body dysmorphic disorder. A look at the historical roots of these concepts may help to better understand contemporary perspectives and controversies on mental self-representations of the living human body.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Massimo Cuzzolaro
    • 1
  1. 1.Formerly Medical Pathophysiology Department, Eating Disorders and Obesity UnitSapienza University of RomeRomeItaly

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