Looking in the mirror DOES make you more anxious about your looksTen minutes of looking at reflection increases anxietyOn average women stare in the mirror 38 times a day‘It’s possible that staring at yourself in the mirror for long periods is not a good thing,' says psychologist
Some of us do it out of sheer vanity, others because we hate the way we look and want to try and change it.
But whatever the reason, it seems staring at yourself in the mirror does more psychological harm than good.
New research shows volunteers who gazed at their reflections for up to ten minutes at a time gradually became more and more anxious and depressed about their looks – even if they were perfectly happy with them to start with.
Research found volunteers who gazed at their reflections for up to ten minutes at a time became more anxious and depressed about their looks
The findings were surprising, scientists admitted, because they had only expected prolonged mirror gazing to adversely affect volunteers in the experiment who had already been diagnosed with the condition Body Dysmorphic Disorder – where sufferers permanently worry about their looks or shape.
In fact, even ‘healthy’ participants started to show signs of distress and anxiety about their own body image after staring at their own images for several minutes at a time.
‘Gazing in a mirror triggers an increase in distress (among BDD patients),’ said researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London in a report in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy. ‘Interestingly, healthy participants experienced a similar response to gazing at their reflection.’
According to some surveys, British women stare in the mirror around 38 times every day and men 18 times a day. Studies show women are much more critical of their appearance than men and much less likely to admire what they see in the mirror.
Some research suggests up to eight out of ten women are dissatisfied with their reflection. In the latest study, psychologists set out to establish to what extent mirrors were a trigger for anxiety and stress in patients with BDD. The condition, which affects around 600,000 people in the UK, is characterised by excessive worry about one or more parts of the body, even if it appears perfectly normal.
Many people wear thick make-up and heavy
clothing to disguise the perceived flaws and repeatedly seek
reassurance by looking in the mirror
The cause is not known but it is more common in people with a history of depression. Many people wear thick make-up and heavy clothing to disguise the perceived flaws and repeatedly seek reassurance by looking in the mirror.
Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry wanted to compare the effect of mirrors among BDD patients with healthy volunteers who had no hang-ups about their appearance. They recruited 25 sufferers and 25 ‘controls’ and put them through two tests. Half were female.
The first test involved just glancing at themselves in the mirror for 25 seconds, before and after which they were assessed on their bodily satisfaction using a tailor-made questionnaire. In the second test, all the recruits had to look at themselves for a minimum of ten minutes, before being assessed once more.
As expected, the results showed patients with BDD became increasingly distressed about their appearance and looks, even after seeing their reflection for just 25 seconds. But against expectations, those in the ‘healthy’ group also started to display signs of anxiety and distress when they were left to gaze for ten minutes.
Researchers said this may be due to the fact that although everyone loves to glance at themselves from time to time, most healthy people do not normally spend such long periods analysing their own features.
‘People without BDD experienced more distress when looking in a mirror for a long period of time as opposed to a short period,’ the researchers said.
Psychologist Andrew Hill, from Leeds University School of Medicine, said other research in the area of eating disorders shows healthy people who glance at themselves ‘infrequently’ in the mirror tend to focus on parts of their body that they like, while those who are ill home in on the bits they dislike.
But during prolonged bouts of staring, it is likely that even healthy women, for example, would eventually start to focus more on their perceived imperfections. He said: ‘It’s possible that staring at yourself in the mirror for long periods is not a good thing.'