According to a recent study, our first impression of individuals we meet may rest, in part, on what kind of body they have. This was the finding of research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“Our research shows that people infer a wide range of personality traits just by looking at the physical features of a particular body,” noted Ying Hu of the University of Texas at Dallas, a psychological scientist who was the first author on the research. “Stereotypes based on body shape can contribute to how we judge and interact with new acquaintances and strangers. Understanding these biases is important for considering how we form first impressions.” In other words, we tend to stereotype people based on their body type.
Hu and colleagues created 140 realistic body models–70 females and 70 males. They then rendered three-dimensional drawings using data from laser scans of actual human bodies. Through this process researchers to were able to determine the precise physical measurements of each body shown in the study. They then recruited 76 undergraduate participants and asked them to view a set of models. The subjects were shown each body from two angles and were asked whether 30 traits shown on screen applied to each body. The traits were based on dimensions of the Big Five personality Test (a common measure of personality used in psychology research).
Subjects tended to judge heavier bodies as being associated with more negative traits, such as laziness or carelessness; they judged lighter bodies more positively, attributing to them traits such as self-confidence, enthusiasm and higher self-esteem.
Subjects also judged classically feminine bodies (what researchers called pear-shaped females) and classically masculine bodies (what researchers called broad-shouldered males) as being associated with “active” traits but negative traits, such as being quarrelsome, extroverted, and irritable. When subjects were presented with male and female bodies that were rectangular-shaped, they associated them with relatively passive but positive traits, such as being trustworthy, shy, dependable, and warm.
After concluding this research, the authors found that they could reliably predict how people while will determine judgments about traits from different combinations of body shape features. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to consider the role of more nuanced aspects of body shape—beyond height and weight—in personality judgments about people,” Alice O’Toole, coauthor and professor of the University of Texas at Dallas, commented.
Dr. O’Toole was right, up to now most studies of first impressions concentrated on height and weight, and particularly on facial expressions. How many books or articles have you read that spoke about what kind of facial expression you should wear on your face when you go for a job interview? How many articles have you read about what kind of facial expression and tone of voice to use on first dates?
First impressions tend to be all-important, especially if we never develop a relationship with someone that is closer than that of an acquaintanceship. Hence, our first impression of them may affect how we see them and treat them even after a long period of time. In terms of people, just like books, we tend to judge a book (or person) by its cover. And not only that, we then tend to relate to people based on that original judgment of them; we are relating to them as a physical stereotype rather than as an individual person.
In psychology we refer to this as an “anchoring heuristic,” which means that we judge people and situations by referring back to the first time we encountered this person or situation. Judging people by their body shape or size is using a short-cut in thinking, referring to the first impression of that person rather than judging that person by getting to know them on a deeper level. Of if we can’t do that at least we can withhold judgment until we have a chance to know them on a deeper level.
And, indeed, judging people by their body size or shape is not so far removed from judging people by their skin color, race, or ethnicity. Everybody is aware that this is a kind of discrimination. But the awareness of judging people by their body shape is also a form of discrimination has not been noted as a form of discrimination.
No, fat people aren’t lazy. But that’s the stereotype.