Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Single, Physically Active, Female: The Effects of Information about Exercise Participation and Body Weight on Perceptions of Young Women

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Single, Physically Active, Female: The Effects of Information about Exercise Participation and Body Weight on Perceptions of Young Women

Article excerpt

This experiment examined whether information about a woman's body weight moderates the effects of information about her exercise habits on ratings of her personality and physical appearance. In a 3 (target's exercise status) x 3 (target's body weight) factorial design, participants (N = 164) read a description of a young woman described as an exerciser, nonexerciser, or control and who was underweight, average weight, or overweight. They then rated her on various personality and physical-attractiveness dimensions. For the personality ratings, the nonexerciser was rated less favorably than were exerciser and control targets, regardless of her body weight. For the appearance ratings, body weight moderated the effects of exercise habit information such that being underweight countered negative stereotypes associated with being a nonexerciser and being an exerciser countered negative stereotypes associated with being overweight.

Keywords: stereotypes, impression formation, physical activity

An emerging body of literature indicates the existence of exerciser and nonexerciser stereotypes. Several experiments have shown that study participants formulate positive impressions of people described as regular exercisers, and relatively negative impressions of people described as nonexercisers (Lindwall & Martin Ginis, 2006; Mack, 2003; Martin, Sinden, & Fleming, 2000; Martin Ginis, Latimer, & Jung, 2003). For example, Martin and colleagues (2000) found that targets described as regular exercisers were considered to be more self-confident, to have greater self-control, and to be harder working, fitter, stronger, healthier, more muscular and more physically attractive than control targets for whom no exercise information was given. The control targets were, in turn, rated more favorably on these dimensions than were targets described as nonexercisers.

A couple of studies have examined potential moderators of the exerciser and nonexerciser stereotypes. Neither target's sex (Martin Ginis et al., 2003), rater's sex (Lindwall & Martin Ginis, 2006), nor rater's exercise identity (Martin Ginis et al.) seem to have an effect. However, motivation to self-present as an exerciser has been shown to influence stereotyped perceptions of exercisers' physical attractiveness (Lindwall & Martin Ginis).

Another variable that may moderate exerciser and nonexerciser stereotypes is information about the target's body weight. Being overweight is associated with a long list of unfavorable characteristics such as laziness, ill health, unattractiveness, low intelligence, unhappiness, sloppiness, and poor self-control (Crandall, 1994; Geier, Schwartz, & Brownell, 2003; Regan, 1996; Ryckman, Robbins, Kaczor, & Gold, 1989; Tiggemann & Rothblum, 1988). These negative stereotypes are largely driven by the false assumption that overweight people lack the self-control to diet and exercise (Crandall, 1994; Crandall & Martinez, 1996).

The present experiment examined whether information about a female target's body weight (underweight, average weight, and overweight) moderates the effects of information about her exercise habits (exerciser, nonexerciser, and control) on ratings of her personality and physical appearance. A female target was used in this experiment because the negative social consequences of being overweight are believed to be greater for women than for men (Tiggemann & Rothblum, 1988). We reasoned that if body weight does influence stereotyped perceptions associated with exercise habit information, then this relationship should be most likely to emerge when a woman is the target of others' evaluations.

It was hypothesized that a significant interaction would emerge between exercise status and body weight. Specifically, the overweight nonexerciser was expected to be judged even more harshly than were the average weight and underweight nonexercisers because being an overweight nonexerciser carries a double stigma - the stigmas of being both sedentary and fat. …

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