Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Does Size Really Matter?

The fact that attractive people fare better in certain situations is no secret, they are found to be kinder, smarter and to live generally more successful lives than their unattractive counterparts (Cialdini, 1994; Wetzel, 1981). This phonema, known as the ‘halo effect’ has provoked a range of research which explores  just exactly why we like attractive people better. A study by Wade and DiMaria (2003) looked more in-depth at women’s weight, which may contribute to the perception of their attractiveness, and to see if the halo effect was evident relating to this specific aspect of physical appearance.
Whether a woman’s physical size can result in a halo effect was investigated using a 2 (race of woman) x 2 (weight of woman) x 2 (sex of participant) design. 79 female and 29 male participants received one of two possible descriptions of a woman (Black or White) alongside a photograph of her (thin or heavy) and a questionnaire. The same White woman and Black woman were used in the thin and heavy photographs and body padding was used to manipulate size and reduce variability in other aspects of appearance.
Participants were subsequently asked to rate the individual on eight items: attractiveness, intelligence, friendliness, enthusiasm, trustworthiness, occupational success (i.e., lucrative career), and whether the person will be a good parent, and a good mate (the last three items are life success measures). Cultural differences really came into play with regards to the results; thin White women and larger Black women were rated generally more successful on all of these factors (see table).
Swami et al (2008) found that what is considered to be deemed ‘attractive’ differs across cultures and this is clearly demonstrated in this finding as Western views of beauty are typically associated with a lighter weight. Conversely, larger Black women are often stereotyped as having a ‘motherly’ disposition and being a happy homemaker which could arguably have activated racial stereotypes in participants (Devine, 1989).
The implications for this study could be important in terms of actual life success. In everyday situations larger White women and thinner Black women could be considered to be at a disadvantage when being judged by outsiders…but does this mean that slimmer Black women should gain weight just so that they are viewed more positively!? This study clearly demonstrates that weight can cause a halo effect however numerous other factors (i.e. different aspects of physical appearance) should also be taken into consideration before such generalisations are to be made.

Cialdini, R. B. (1994). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Morrow.
Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 5–18.
Swami, V., Rozmus-Wrzesinska, M., Voracek, M., Haubner, T., Danel, D., Pawłowski, B., Furnham, A. (2008). The influence of skin tone, body weight, and hair colour on perceptions of women's attractiveness and health: A cross-cultural investigation. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 6(4), 321-341.
Wade, T. J., & DiMaria, C. (2003). Weight halo effects: Individual differences in perceived life success as a function of women's race and weight. Sex Roles, 48(9-10), 461-465
Wetzel, C. G., Wilson, T. D., & Kort, J. (1981). The halo effect revisited: Forewarned is not forearmed. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 17(4), 427-439.
Katie Ashcroft - Blog #3

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