Publication Date

April 2017

Advisor(s)

Matthew Kurtz, Caitlin Shepherd

Major

Psychology

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

According to previous research, society’s misconceptions regarding anorexia nervosa (AN) and obesity contribute to a stigmatization of these medical conditions. Literature reveals that society rarely acknowledges the biological causes of these conditions and tends to see individuals as personally responsible for their condition. There is also a lack of agreement on the likelihood and definition of recovery for both conditions. Furthermore, there is evidence that gender may influence stigmatization of these conditions. Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to see how perceptions about causes, personal responsibility, and recovery vary across condition. In addition, this study aimed to determine if stigma differed depending on condition and gender. Seventy-six undergraduate students were randomly assigned to read a vignette depicting either a male or female with either AN or obesity. Participants then answered questionnaires designed to assess stigma and beliefs. The results revealed that participants highlighted biological causes for obesity and psychological causes for AN. Participants also identified psychological criteria as more critical for recovery from AN and physical criteria as more critical for recovery from obesity. The degree of personal responsibility was not affected by condition. Stigmatization varied by condition with participants reporting greater behavioral stigma for obesity but greater cognitive stigma for AN. Gender had no effect on stigmatization. Thus, this study revealed that causes and recovery criteria differed depending on condition and stigma toward AN occurs on a cognitive level, while stigma towards obesity occurs on a behavioral level. This understanding can shape educational programs that raise awareness and reduce stigma for these conditions.

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