When you’re overweight, everything seems further away.

By Seriously Science | March 3, 2016 9:52 am
Photo: flickr/Robert Scoble

Photo: flickr/Robert Scoble

We all know that being overweight can affect your physical stamina. But according to this study, it can also affect your perception of distances. Here, the researchers asked a group of normal weight, overweight, and obese volunteers to estimate distances. They found that individuals who weighed more tended to judge the same distance as further, even if they believed themselves to weigh less. The authors conclude that people who are overweight might avoid physical activity in part because they are actually judging distances to be larger (rather than just thinking their body is less fit). 

Perceived distance and obesity: It’s what you weigh, not what you think

“Action abilities are constrained by physical body size and characteristics, which, according to the action-specific account of perception, should influence perceived space. We examined whether physical body size or beliefs about body size affect distance perception by taking advantage of naturally-occurring dissociations typical in people who are obese but believe themselves to weigh less. Normal weight, overweight, and obese individuals made verbal distance estimates. We also collected measures of beliefs about body size and measures of physical body size. Individuals who weighed more than others estimated distances to be farther. Furthermore, physical body weight influenced perceived distance but beliefs about body size did not. The results illustrate that whereas perception is influenced by physical characteristics, it is not influenced by beliefs. The results also have implications for perception as a contributing factor for lifestyle choices: people who weigh more than others may choose to perform less physically demanding actions not as a result of how they perceive their bodies, but as a result of how they perceive the environment.”

Related content:
People are four times as likely to order dessert when their waiter is overweight.
Dining with an overweight person makes you eat more.
Can overweight people blame their tastebuds?

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