Brain, Body & Perception

Research Program

Our clinical neuroscience research seeks to understand the brain basis of perception, emotion, and reward across conditions involving body image, and obsessions and compulsions. We also study gender identity, own body perception, and the effects of hormone treatments in individuals with gender dysphoria in the interest of improving health outcomes of gender-affirming treatments.

research topics

Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals with anorexia nervosa suffer from anxiety, reduced pleasure from normally rewarding situations, and disturbed body image. Neuroimaging studies demonstrate disturbances in reward circuits in response to food and body-related stimuli and monetary rewards, but results are inconsistent. To understand associated neural activity and physiological responses, we are investigating a fundamental process of the overall reward response - how one’s brain learns to associate stimuli with the experience of reward.

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Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) misperceive specific aspects of their appearance to be conspicuously flawed or defective, despite these being unnoticeable or appearing miniscule to others. They typically have poor insight or delusional beliefs, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours, anxiety, and depression. We examine inter-relationships between neural systems, global/local visual perceptual processing, eye gaze behaviours, and emotional arousal in BDD population.

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent intrusive thoughts, urges, or images and repetitive physical or mental behaviours. Neuroimaging has played an important part in advancing our understanding of the neurobiology of OCD. At the same time, neuroimaging studies of OCD have had notable limitations, including reliance on relatively small samples. We are developing a circuit-based approach to different cognitive and clinical dimensions of OCD that can help transform how OCD and related mental disorders are conceptualized, diagnosed, and ultimately treated around the world.

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Somatomap

We are creating a novel, visual-based digital tool, to measure, understand, and quantify individuals’ experiences of their bodies. This tool – “Somatomap” – is an advancement over self-report questionnaires to capture visual representations of internalized body image, cross-sectionally and dynamically over time. It provides a unique means to measure own-body perceptual accuracy. Understanding differences in perceptual accuracy and what factors contribute to this may help predict what treatments will be effective and what new treatments may be necessary.

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We are enrolling participants for our research studies!

We are looking for both healthy people and people suffering from the following conditions:

Anorexia Nervosa

Appetitive conditioning in anorexia nervosa: neural, physiological, and behavioral mechanisms.

The purpose of this study is to identify whether individuals with AN can learn positive (reward-based) associations, how these associations diminish, and their relationships to heart rate, pupil responses, and brain activation. The study will also investigate the extent to which this positive association is reactivated after 24 hours, and the extent to which a memory prompt will help reinstate this previously learned association. The results from this study will provide a better understanding of the processes of reward learning in individuals with AN. This will inform the development of novel treatments that could increase incentives for pursuing rewarding social and food consumption-related experiences, and counteract fear of weight gain, which are fundamental to recovery.

Email: anorexia.research@camh.ca

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Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Neural mechanisms of perceptual abnormalities and their malleability in body dysmorphic disorder.

One of the main symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a distorted perception of one's appearance. This causes emotional distress, can contribute to poor insight about the cause of one's problems, limits engagement in mental health treatment, and puts individuals at risk for relapse. The results from this study will help us understand how the brains of people with BDD, in combination with their behavior and their emotions, contribute to abnormal visual perceptual processing. Importantly, it will also help us understand if techniques to modify visual processing can change perception. This will lay the groundwork for next-step clinical studies to test new treatments that involve perceptual retraining.

Email: bdd.research@camh.ca

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Body Dysmorphic Disorder TMS

Exogenous Modulation of Visual Perception and Connectivity in Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

One of the main symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a distorted perception of one's appearance. This causes emotional distress, can contribute to poor insight about the cause of one's problems, limits engagement in mental health treatment, and puts individuals at risk for relapse. This study aims to understand the effects of noninvasive brain stimulation in combination with a behavioral visual modulation technique on brain function and visual perception. This is an important step toward developing new treatment components for BDD.

Email: bdd.empac@camh.ca

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Gender Dysphoria

Gender identity and body perception in individuals with gender dysmorphia.

For binary transgender and nonbinary individuals with gender dysphoria, the difference between their body associated with their birth-assigned sex – what they see in the mirror – and their internal gender-identified body is a key defining part of their experience and contributes to their dysphoria. This research study aims to create a novel, visually based digital avatar tool to understand and measure individuals’ experiences of their bodies. Our goal with this study is to improve transgender healthcare, for example being able to plan, and monitor outcomes of gender-affirming treatments in a more personalized way.

Email: somatomap@camh.ca

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Team

Dr. Jamie Feusner

Jamie Feusner

Principal Investigator

Dr. Feusner came to the University of Toronto in July 2021. He was previously a Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, where he was on faculty from 2006-2021 and was the Director of the UCLA Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphic Disorder Research Program and the Director of the UCLA Adult OCD Program. Dr. Feusner's clinical areas of specialty are body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders. Dr. Feusner has taught cognitive-behavioural therapy and pharmacotherapy to psychiatry residents and other mental health providers, and provides research supervision and mentorship to junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows, neuroscience Ph.D. students, psychology Ph.D. students, master's students, undergraduates, and high school students.

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Hayden Peel

Postdoctoral Fellow

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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Darren Liang

Laboratory Manager

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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Sameena Karsan

Research Analyst

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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Jessica Qian

Research Analyst

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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Bea Calahong

Research Assistant

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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Zeina Beidas

Research Assistant

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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Joel Diaz

Doctoral Student

University of Toronto

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Akansha Naraindas

Visiting PhD Student

University College Dublin

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Alyssa Devine

Research Co-op Student

University of Toronto

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Vienna Mak

Student

University of Toronto

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Victoria Gracie

Student

University of Toronto

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Marianne Rouleau-Tang

Volunteer

University of Toronto

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Various opportunities available!

Publications

May 15, 2024

Corpus callosum morphology and relationships to illness phenotypes in individuals with anorexia nervosa

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May 10, 2024

Playing with Marbles Podcast - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: When Fear Hijacks Your Brain

Listen here

May 02, 2024

Visual Perceptual Processing Abnormalities in Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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Feburary 21, 2024

Playing with Marbles Podcast - Anxiety & Eating Disorders: When the alarm bells won't stop ringing

Listen here

Jan 15, 2024

Self-focused brain predictors of cognitive behavioral therapy response in a transdiagnostic sample

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Oct 30, 2023

A targeted strategic peer support intervention to increase adherence to video teletherapy exposure and response prevention treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder: a retrospective observational analysis

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Sep 28, 2023

Testing anxiety and reward processing in anorexia nervosa as predictors of longitudinal clinical outcomes

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Aug 15, 2023

Neural representations of anxiety in adolescents with anorexia nervosa: a multivariate approach

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Jul 31, 2023

Towards Personalized Circuit-Based Closed-Loop Brain-Interventions in Psychiatry: Using Symptom Provocation to Extract EEG-Markers of Brain Circuit Activity

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Nov 14, 2022

White matter microstructure in habit and reward circuits in anorexia nervosa: Insights from a neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging study.

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Dec 14, 2022

Therapeutic uses of psychedelics for eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder.

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May 24, 2022

Dynamic Effective Connectivity Patterns During Rapid Face Stimuli Presentation in Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

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July 30, 2021

Can excitatory neuromodulation change distorted perception of one's appearance?

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August 5, 2021

White matter tracts characteristics in habitual decision-making circuit underlie ritual behaviors in anorexia nervosa.

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May 28, 2021

Effects of visual attention modulation on dynamic functional connectivity during own-face viewing in body dysmorphic disorder.

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June 10, 2021

Visual mapping of body image disturbance in anorexia nervosa reveals objective markers of illness severity.

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October 29, 2019

A Novel Mobile Tool (Somatomap) to Assess Body Image Perception Pilot Tested With Fashion Models and Nonmodels: Cross-Sectional Study.

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News

March 9, 2023

Body dysmorphic disorder is more common than eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, yet few people are aware of its dangers

About a quarter of those with body dysmorphic disorder attempt suicide or struggle with ideas of suicide. Fortunately, medication and therapy have proved highly effective at treating the disorder.

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January 13, 2022

Ontario Morning from CBC Radio

For people who already have poor self-image, all the talk about New Year's resolutions could make things worse. Dr. Jamie Feusner, professor at the University of Toronto talks to CBC Radio about body dysmorphic disorder.

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February 18, 2022

Everything You Need To Know About Body Dysmorphic Disorder - Chatelaine Health

Body dysmorphic disorder, or body dysmorphia, goes beyond general insecurities or dislike for one’s appearance. “It’s a psychiatric disorder where people misperceive that something about their appearance is ‘defective’ and ‘ugly’,” explains Dr. Jamie Feusner.

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Contact

We are located at:

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
250 College St, Toronto
ON M5T 1R8, Canada

Get in touch:

bbp.research@gmail.com
jamie.feusner@utoronto.ca
jamie.feusner@camh.ca