Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Not All Jobs Are Suitable for Fat People: Experimental Evidence of a Link between Being Fat and "Out-of-Sight" Jobs

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Not All Jobs Are Suitable for Fat People: Experimental Evidence of a Link between Being Fat and "Out-of-Sight" Jobs

Article excerpt

Previous research has shown the presence of antifat bias and discrimination towards fat persons in occupational settings. The main goal of this study was to investigate whether people spontaneously associate being fat with specific types of jobs. In particular, the existence of a strong mental association between obesity and job positions that do not require interpersonal contact was hypothesized. Participants were administered a computerized task called the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998) aimed at assessing the strength of the association among concepts. As expected, results demonstrated that the category "fat person" was indeed more easily paired with low-contact jobs than with jobs requiring extensive interpersonal contact. In addition, media exposure and personal body weight were found to moderate the effect. In short, the study showed that fat persons are selectively associated in the mind with different job positions, and indications about potential moderating factors are provided.

There is now widespread agreement about the crucial role of social categorization in mental life. Several theoretical models do indeed identify categorization as a preliminary and often automatic process that regulates the initial stages of person perception (e.g., Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Hamilton, 1981). Categorization per se is likely to be necessary in order to reduce environmental complexity (Allport, 1954; Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen, 1994), but it might also lead to pernicious effects, namely stereotyping and discrimination (Bodenhausen & Macrae, 1998).

In the literature there is an impressive number of studies related to race, gender or age which have been fundamental in identifying the general cognitive processes involved in categorization and subsequent stereotyping. Quite recently, research has also started to investigate in more detail discrimination based on body shape. The study of social judgments based on this dimension is particularly relevant for several reasons. First, statistics show that obesity has dramatically increased in Western societies in the last few decades (WHO, 2003). Second, obesity is by definition a perceptually salient feature, and, as such, it is difficult to conceal. This means that body shape may dominate person perception masking other relevant individual characteristics. Regardless of gender, age and ethnicity there is a generalized tendency to express aversion towards obese persons (Staffieri, 1967). In addition, obesity is associated with negative stereotypical traits (e.g., Harris, Harris, & Brochner, 1982; Larkin & Pines, 1979) which do not exclusively involve the physical aspect in a direct way. For instance, obese persons are often blamed for their physical shape because they are considered as weak and without the necessary will power to exert self-control over dietary habits (Crandall, 1994; Crandall & Biernat 1990; Crandall & Martinez, 1996). As a consequence, obese persons are held responsible for their condition and this represents a key aspect of antifat prejudice (Crandall et al., 2001). This attribution of responsibility, however, is at odds with objective data from medical studies demonstrating that obesity is often caused by genetic factors or metabolic dysfunctions (see Stunkard, Foch, & Hrubec, 1986). Along a similar line, overweight individuals are frequently stereotyped as morally and emotionally impaired, as socially handicapped (Cahnman, 1968; Crandall & Biernat, 1990), as well as devoid of sexuality (Millman, 1980). On the basis of this stereotypical image, people may thus be prone to avoiding contact with obese persons.

Importantly, these negative stereotypes develop early in life (Lerner & Gellert, 1969) and are shared by both normal weight individuals and overweight individuals (Allon, 1982; Crandall & Biernat, 1990; Wang, Brownell, & Wadden, 2004). Two relevant consequences may thus arise: Overweight individuals may become the victims of stigmatization and discrimination on the one hand, and they may develop a depressed self-esteem on the other (Wadden, Foster, Brownell, & Finley, 1984). …

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