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Date of Award

6-2016

Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in General Experimental Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Reader/Committee Chair

Wellman, Joseph

Abstract

Fear and stigmatization are often used to motivate overweight individuals to engage in healthy behaviors, but these strategies are often counterproductive and can lead to undesirable outcomes. In the present study, I examined the impact of weight-based stigma on cognitive ability (i.e., inhibitory control) and food selection (i.e., calories selected) in individuals who consider themselves to be overweight. I predicted that participants higher in perceived weight stigma would perform more poorly on an inhibitory control task and order more calories on a menu task when they read about discrimination against the overweight versus discrimination against a self-irrelevant out-group. Additionally, I expected that inhibitory control would mediate the relationship between perceived weight stigma and calories ordered for participants who read about discrimination against the overweight, but not for control participants. Participants completed online prescreen measures assessing whether or not they considered themselves to be overweight and their perceptions of weight stigma. Those individuals who considered themselves overweight were then invited into the laboratory to complete tasks to (1) manipulate weight-based discrimination, (2) measure inhibitory control, and (3) measure food selection. As predicted, participants higher in perceived weight stigma performed more poorly on the inhibitory control task and ordered more calories when they read about discrimination against the overweight, but not when they read about discrimination against an out-group. Conversely, inhibitory control did not mediate the relationship between perceived weight stigma and number of calories ordered by participants. Importantly, the present findings provide evidence that perceptions of weight stigma are critical in our understanding of the impact of weight discrimination. Additionally, these results have theoretical and practical implications for both understanding and addressing the psychological and physical consequences of weight-based stigma.

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