Study Finds Striking Difference in Male Body Image in East vs. West

'Adonis Complex' predominant in U.S., European men

February 01, 2005

Adriana Bobinchock, Laura Neves
Public Affairs

Belmont, MA - A study by Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital suggests that Taiwanese men show much less distortion of their body image than men in the United States and Europe. The researchers, writing in the Feb. 1 American Journal of Psychiatry (PubMed), say their findings may explain why muscle dysmorphia (a form of body image disorder) and anabolic steroid abuse are such grave problems in Western societies, but are rarely seen in Asia.

The researchers, led by Chi-Fu Jeffrey Yang, administered a computerized test, asking 55 male university students in Taiwan to choose pictures corresponding to their own bodies, the body they would like to have, the body of an average Taiwanese male, and the body that Taiwanese women would prefer. They then compared these results to those previously obtained in an identical study in the U.S. and Europe.

The Western men estimated that women preferred a male body with 20 to 30 pounds more muscle than an average man. But when actual Western women were asked to choose the male body that they liked, they selected an ordinary male body without all of the added muscle. By contrast, the Taiwanese men did not show this distortion; they correctly recognized that women did not prefer a bulked-up male body.

"Our findings suggest that Western men may have a very distorted view of what they ideally should look like, whereas men in Taiwan don't seem to have this problem," says senior author Harrison Pope, Jr., MD, director of McLean Hospital's Biological Psychiatry Laboratory. "These factors may explain why body dysmorphic disorder and anabolic steroid abuse are far more serious in the West than in Taiwan. In fact, we have seen almost no evidence of steroid abuse anywhere in the Pacific Rim."

McLean Hospital, consistently ranked as the nation's top psychiatric hospital by U.S. News & World Report, is the largest psychiatric clinical care, teaching and research facility of Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of Partners HealthCare.

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