Overweight people considered less able to think and act independently, study finds

A series of five experiments reported that people tend to deny the mental agency of overweight people, but not the experience. Heavier people are considered less able to control their own lives, think and act independently. However, the weight did not affect the level of experience assigned to the assessee. The study was published in the Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychology.

Negative feelings, stereotypes and discrimination against heavier people are prevalent. They affect how heavier people are treated in social situations ranging from privacy to discrimination in education, employment and medical care. Scientists call this the “anti-fat stigma” and describe it as “a pervasive ideology targeting heavier people” that occurs across countries, genders, races, and ages.

“I wanted to understand how people confuse bodily abilities with mental abilities, and how that intersects with anti-harmful fat beliefs,” said study author Mattea Sim, a visiting scholar at the University of ‘Indiana. “We know that people discriminate against heavier people in contexts that shouldn’t be weight-related, like at work or school. It seemed that observers made inferences about a person’s mental sophistication based on their body, which is exactly what we found.

As part of the anti-fat stigma, heavier people are seen as responsible for their weight and this comes with a feeling of disgust towards these people. Heavier people often internalize the anti-fat stigma, leading to low self-esteem, eating disorders, and psychological distress. Being lazy and lacking self-control are the two most common stereotypes about heavier people.

The authors of the study note that “perceiving others as having human mental sophistication brings them into the moral community.” However, studies have shown that people often dehumanize others by denying their unique human mental abilities. Does this happen to heavier people?

To answer this question, Sim and his colleagues conducted a series of 5 social experiments, some of which consisted of several smaller ones. They hypothesized that heavier weight people would be “dementalized”, endowed with less sophisticated mental abilities than middle weight people.

The participants were Mturk workers and their numbers in each of the studies varied between about 50 and 200. In each of the experiments, the participants were shown a number of images of bodies of different weights in random order, with variations in what was in the picture through different experiences. They were asked to rate the mental agency of the people to whom the bodies belong and its various aspects, level of experience and other properties.

In the last two experiments, participants were asked to rate the suitability of the people whose bodies were shown for certain job roles or to guess the profession of the person whose body was pictured. Participants were told that the study was looking at whether people could infer other people’s personalities from their bodies.

Across all experiments, the results repeatedly showed that heavier people are considered to have less mental agency than middle-weight people, but not necessarily less experienced. People with heavier bodies were clearly perceived to have less ability to think and make independent decisions. Specifically, the results showed that heavier people were perceived to be less able to think and behave purposefully, but this did not extend to their ability to feel emotions.

Heavier and middle-weight people were considered to have equal abilities to feel various emotions. This finding holds true whether participants are shown photos of real people or computer-generated images, whether they are shown only images of torsos or full bodies. Women were considered to have more mental capacity than men, but this was independent of weight.

Further study showed that heavier people are seen as less physically capable (less physical action) and this perception could in turn lead participants to believe that those with lower physical abilities (due to their weight) are also less capable of mental activity. . Another link between weight and mental agency was found to be feelings of disgust, which participants reported feeling roughly heavier weights.

The latter two studies showed that participants rated heavier weight people to be less capable in work roles requiring mental agency than average weight people, while this was not the case for roles requiring mental agency. experience. When asked to guess the occupations of the people whose photos were shown, participants tended to assume that heavier participants worked in roles that require experience, but not in roles that require thought or autonomous decision making, i.e. mental agency.

“The body is not a window to the mind, but people seem to use it as such,” Sim told PsyPost. “Observers believe that heavier people have less sophisticated minds than lighter people. This is a harmful form of dehumanization that can contribute to anti-fat discrimination. A person’s weight cannot revealing how effectively she can think, plan, or remember, and does not determine how well she is suited to social roles.

The study sheds light on a rarely studied link between people’s perceived weight and how others perceive their mental abilities. It should be noted that all of the study participants were Mturk workers and that studies on different populations might yield different results. All images shown were static and results might have been different if people had been tasked with rating videos or real people. Finally, most of the images were male and presented in inverted colors to disguise the race of the person in the photo.

“It will be very important to further investigate how these effects occur at the intersection of different identities,” Sim said. “People with multiple marginalized identities are often subject to unique forms of stereotyping and discrimination. It will be important to understand whether observers rate heavier people differently based on other intersecting identities, such as race, gender, or disability.

The study, “Bodies and Minds: Heavyer Weight Targets Are De-Mentalized as Lacking in Mental Agency,” was authored by Mattea Sim, Steven M. Almaraz, and Kurt Hugenberg.

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