Examining perceived pathogen threat and body weight preferences using experimental priming

Mutale, G.J. ORCID: 0000-0002-7743-2675, 2016. Examining perceived pathogen threat and body weight preferences using experimental priming. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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Background: It has been shown that individual levels of hunger affect preferences for body weight with hungry males preferring heavier female bodies than satiated males. This suggests that body weight preferences are not fixed and vary with ecological conditions. It is therefore possible that the way we perceive bodies could also be affected by other environmental factors such as disease and the potential existence of pathogens. Furthermore, research has indicated that individuals have a behavioural immune system that causes them to become more vigilant in pathogen heavy environments and implicitly change their behaviour accordingly. However, no research has examined if perceived pathogen threat will affect body weight judgments meaning this thesis will be the first to bring the two research areas together.
Aim: The main aim of the thesis was to examine the effects of using experimental pathogen primes on individuals' body weight preferences. The thesis also aimed to create and validate a new set of body stimuli that could be used due to problems with existing stimuli.
Methods: A sample of female participants was used. Experiment 1 was concerned with stimuli development and testing the reliability and validity of pictorial body stimuli that varied in BMI. A priming paradigm was used to activate concerns about pathogen threat. Experiment 2 examined the effects of visual pathogen primes on participants' body weight preferences. Experiment 3 further explored the effects of pathogen priming on body weight preferences but with a verbal pathogen prime. Experiment 4 examined preferences for body weight after exposure to a threat prime intended to cause increased anxiety as opposed to pathogen levels. Experiment 5 investigated the effects of pathogen priming on muscularity preferences in male bodies.
Results: The main findings were that pathogen priming causes individuals to shift their body weight preferences towards the healthy weight BMI category with heavier bodies being found more attractive and healthy. This is owing to the fact that BMI preferences before priming were for low BMI's meaning a shift towards slightly heavier bodies was a shift towards a healthier body. This is thought to be because increased body weight signifies better health, pathogen resistance and access to resources. This effect appears to only be significant in female bodies compared to male bodies. In addition, this effect appears only to be present in judgments of others body weight, and does not affect own levels of body dissatisfaction. This effect seems to be specific to pathogen threat and not related to general threats.
Conclusion: In conclusion, using the newly validated stimuli, the results suggest that pathogen priming causes individuals to shift their body weight judgments. This suggests that the way we perceive bodies is not fixed and is sensitive to environmental pathogen prevalence.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Mutale, G.J.
Date: December 2016
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the owner of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 15 Mar 2017 16:11
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2019 14:44
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/30397

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