Date of Award

10-5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Jarry, Josée

Keywords

appearance schemas, body image, implicit anti-fat attitudes, maladaptive appearance investment, media, self-ideal discrepancies

Abstract

Building upon the work of Boersma and Jarry (2013), this research investigated the impact of experimental exposure to weight-based derogatory media on women’s body image and implicit anti-fat attitudes. Drawing from Slater’s (2007) reinforcing spirals theory of media selectivity and effects, a further aim of the study was to examine prospective predictors of choosing to engage with these derogatory media, as well as the effects of self-selected exposure. Additionally, maladaptive appearance investment was investigated as a moderating variable to clarify whether highly invested women would respond defensively on explicit measures of body satisfaction and estimates of current body size. Undergraduate participants (N = 240) completed online measures assessing hypothesized predictors of selecting weight-derogation media: implicit anti-fat attitudes, body dissatisfaction, maladaptive appearance investment, and fear of negative appearance evaluation. One to two weeks later, participants attended a lab session where they were exposed to two headlines: one providing weight-derogation content and another offering general celebrity news; and asked to choose which corresponding article they would like to read. All students were then randomly assigned to view tabloid-style pictures and articles that either denigrated female celebrities for gaining weight, or were presented non-appearance related information about the celebrities’ lives. Subsequently, participants completed outcome measures assessing implicit anti-fat attitudes, state body satisfaction, state fear of negative appearance evaluation, appearance schemas activation, and discrepancies between perceived current and ideal body size. Results yielded no support for reinforcing spirals theory. Selection of weightbased derogatory media was not predicted by any of the study variables, nor were there any effects of media selection on the impact of media exposure. Consistent with predictions, women who viewed the derogatory media exhibited greater implicit anti-fat attitudes, self-ideal discrepancies, and appearance schemas activation than did women in the neutral media condition. However, explicit reports of body satisfaction and fear of negative appearance evaluation did not differ across conditions. Further, there was no evidence that women high in maladaptive appearance investment responded more defensively than women low in maladaptive appearance investment. Instead, regardless of level of appearance investment, there was a clear disconnect in women’s responding such that negative effects of exposure to weight-based derogatory media only emerged on measures that did not require participants to explicitly endorse appearance-focused concerns. This pattern of findings may be understood as resulting from the activation of emerging societal pressures to claim body satisfaction leading to more widespread defensive responding, whereas the negative impact of exposure to weight-derogation media was captured by implicit measures of anti-fat attitudes and appearance schemas activation, and figural rating scales assessing self-ideal discrepancies.

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