Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure and Body-Weight Bias: Influence of Gender of Participants and Targets

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure and Body-Weight Bias: Influence of Gender of Participants and Targets

Article excerpt

The World Health Organization has described obesity as a worldwide epidemic (WHO, 2000). It is estimated that approximately 315 million people worldwide fall into the category of obesity (Caterson & Gill, 2002). Prevalence rates of obesity are higher in developed countries, with the Western world accounting for a significantly high proportion of obese individuals (James, Leach, Kalamara, & Shayeghi, 2001). Obesity is associated with numerous health difficulties, such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and arthritis (Mokdad et al., 2001). In addition to physical health problems, there are also a number of psychological problems related to obesity, such as depression, bodyimage disturbances, and low self-esteem (Freidman et al., 2005). Physical and psychological difficulties in obesity are likely to be exacerbated by social stigma associated with being overweight.

Negative attitudes toward overweight individuals have been measured in many different ways. The traditional approach to measuring negative body-weight bias is the administration of a questionnaire, where the participant is generally asked a number of questions related to their attitudes toward overweight people (see Crandall, 1994). A second approach is to set up a covert behavioral experiment, designed to assess body-weight bias by measuring the behavioral responses of participants (O'Brien, Latner, Halberstat, Hunter, Anderson, & Caputi, 2008). For example, in the study by O'Brien et al., participants were given a mock curriculum vitae (CV) that included a photograph of either a slim or an overweight individual. The experimental group received the mock CV with a picture of an overweight individual, whereas the control group was given the same CV with a picture of a slim individual. In one behavioral measure, participants were told that the individual in the picture would sit in a particular chair in the same room with the participant. The researchers then monitored where each participant sat relative to the chair that was indicated for the individual in the picture. Participants who received the picture of the overweight individual sat farther from the chair than those in the control group. Thus, a behavioral bias against overweight individuals was observed.

The questionnaire is a useful and convenient method of obtaining information for analysis from a large sample of participants, compared to more time-consuming experimental behavioral studies, such as that conducted by O'Brien et al. (2008). However, surveys may not be the most appropriate method of analysis when the subject matter is controversial in nature, for example, when measuring attitudes relating to social prejudice (Dovidio & Fazio, 1992). One of the major shortfalls of self-report measures such as questionnaires when probing socially sensitive issues is that it is possible that participants may not respond honestly, as they may not wish to admit to possessing negative attitudes toward socially vulnerable groups. A research approach designed to overcome the difficulties related to a social desirability bias is the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). The IAT is a computerized test procedure that measures what is termed implicit attitudes, because any bias exposed is implicit in the nature of participant responding, rather than in explicit statements and participants' reported agreement or disagreement. Specifically, whereas questionnaires and other self-report methods may be referred to as "explicit measures," implicit bias is not reported by the participant but is interpreted by the researcher via response latency data. The basic premise of implicit attitude testing is that participants will respond faster to statements that are consistent with their beliefs than to statements that are inconsistent with their beliefs. For example, if the IAT program presents paired associations such as flower--pleasant and flower--unpleasant, predictions are that participant responding will be quicker to agree with the flower--pleasant association than with the flower--unpleasant association. …

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