Negative body image and cognitive biases to body size

Szostak, Natalia Maria

January 2018

Thesis or dissertation

© 2018 Natalia Maria Szostak. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis explored the relationship between cognitive biases to body size and one’s developed levels of body image concerns and weight status. Women with higher body image concerns were hypothesised to process body-related information in a biased fashion, specifically, to choose thin body ideals and rate thinner bodies higher on attractiveness, display an attentional bias towards thin bodies, and to estimate their own body size inaccurately. In study 1 (N = 84), although an attentional bias to thin bodies was not found, a positive thinness bias in young females was identified and related to one’s level of body image concerns. In study 2 (N = 61), an even more pronounced positive thinness bias was identified in a female sample with average to high levels of body image concerns. The study provided evidence that this bias can be successfully modified and that shifting the interpretation of body size can result in less extreme attitudes towards body size and improve one’s negative body image. Study 3 showed that a positive attitude towards thin female bodies exists in both young men (N = 67) and women (N = 67), but the choice of attractiveness ideals is related to one’s body image only when judging the bodies of one’s own gender. Study 4 (N = 87) indicated that regardless of one’s weight status, women higher in body image concerns present a greater discrepancy between their estimated and ideal size. However, the magnitude of one’s body size underestimation and inaccuracy in judging the amount of weight one would need to lose to achieve their body ideal was related to body image concerns for overweight and obese, but not normal weight women. Overall, the results show that cognitive body biases exist in young women and are related to one’s body image concerns and weight status.

Department of Psychology, The University of Hull
Large, Mary-Ellen; Schindler, Igor
Sponsor (Organisation)
University of Hull
Qualification level
Qualification name
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