Newspaper article

People (Wrongly) Attribute Personality Traits to Body Shapes, Study Finds

Newspaper article

People (Wrongly) Attribute Personality Traits to Body Shapes, Study Finds

Article excerpt

When we meet people for the first time, we tend to subconsciously make instant assumptions about their personality — such as whether they are lazy, self-confident, quarrelsome or dependable — based, at least partly, on their body shape, according to a study published recently in the journal Psychological Science.

The findings aren’t entirely unexpected. Previous research has already shown that people form first impressions of others’ personalities, including their trustworthiness and emotional stability, based solely (and bogusly) on the shape of their faces. Studies have also demonstrated that we tend to label obese people as being lazy and incompetent based only on the size of their body.

This new study, however, looked at the role that more nuanced aspects of body shape — beyond weight — play in our stereotyping of people’s personalities.

“Our research shows that people infer a wide range of personality traits just by looking at the physical features of a particular body,” said Ying Hu, the study’s lead author and a psychologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, in a released statement.

The start of the stereotypes

Needless to say, this study’s finding is discouraging, for it underscores the pervasiveness of a long-debunked psychological theory about body shape and personality that was first proposed by Dr. William Sheldon, an American psychologist and physician back in 1940.

Sheldon believed that the human shape could be categorized into three “somatotypes,” which could be used to predict a person’s temperament, moral character and mental abilities. In his thinking, mesomorphs (broad-shouldered, well-muscled, straight-backed) were energetic, courageous and desirable. Ectomorphs (thin, usually tall, lightly muscled) were neurotic, introverted and intellectual. Endomorphs (round-shaped, usually short, “soft”-muscled) were lazy, dependent and undesirable.

It took a couple of decades, but Sheldon’s somatotypes were eventually — and thoroughly — discredited — but, unfortunately, not before they had taken hold of the public’s imagination. The categories still play a role in pop psychology, and are referenced by people advising on all sorts of things, including how to dress, how to eat and how to choose a sports activity.

How the study was done

For their study, Hu and her colleagues used laser scans of human bodies to create 140 realistic, three-dimensional body models. Half were female, half were male.

The researchers then showed these models (each from two different angles) on a computer screen to 76 undergraduates students. …

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