Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

J. Kevin Thompson, Ph.D.

Keywords

Weight bias, Social norms, Gender, Ethnicity, BMI

Abstract

Previous research has explored self-perception of weight and has established that women tend to overestimate their own weight while men tend to underestimate. New research has also begun to examine parental perceptions of their children's weight and has indicated that parents tend to be fairly inaccurate, particularly when it comes to recognizing overweight in their own children. No research has focused on the way in which we perceive the weight of the many other individuals we encounter on a daily basis. The present study was designed to investigate the way in which the weight of others is rated and the factors that affect the way in which these ratings are made. Undergraduate male (N = 140) and female (N = 193) students viewed a series of slides depicting male and female figures of varying levels of muscularity and adiposity. The race of the figures was also varied. Each figure was presented once in each racial category (Caucasian, Hispanic, and African American).

Participants then filled out questionnaires assessing potential covariates: trait levels of body dissatisfaction, thin-ideal internalization, muscularity dissatisfaction, proximate social norms, appearance comparison, and social desirability. BMI was calculated from self-reported height and weight. The effects of target race, rater race, and rater gender on ratings were examined. Results indicated that the race of the figure affected the ratings given to the figure, though consistent patterns of influence were not identified. Males consistently rated the weight of the figures higher than females and African American raters consistently assigned lower weight ratings than did Caucasian raters. The analyses failed to identify consistent covariates of these effects. Results also provided tentative support for the hypothesis that, given two figures equal in adiposity, raters will provide a lower weight rating to the figure with more muscularity.

Exploratory analyses also examined health and attractiveness ratings. The findings are discussed in the context of research on self-perception and the way in which the trends in perception of others differ from the trends seen in self-perception. Study limitations are discussed and possibilities for future research are offered.

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