Wheeling Jesuit University

Students Present Interesting Research on Body Weight & Perceived Personalities

Just in time for the swimsuit season, another look at body weight!

WHEELING, WV, May 20, 2010 — Dr. Debra Hull and four of her students presented the results of their research project at the annual meeting of the West Virginia Academy of Science held recently in Morgantown at the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

Hull, along with students: 2010 graduate Lauren Cook (Moundsville), rising junior Joan Cotter (Pittsburgh), rising senior Stefanie Mertz (Bethel Park) and rising senior Lindsay Moffatt (Connellsville, Pa.) studied the effect of body weight on the way others perceive personality characteristics. (From left are Hull, Cook, Moffatt and Mertz, Cotter was unavailable for photo.)

“These students were able to produce high-quality research in their first research course. I am proud of their work and look forward to the contributions they will be able to make in the future,” said professor Hull. Eighty-three participants (42 females and 41 males) were asked to complete surveys that contained four separate images containing both females and males.

The participants then rated each image based on 18 different personality traits. Nine of the traits studied showed statistical significance between at least two body size groups. No gender difference occurred.

They found that obese people are perceived to be weak, lazy and unhappy, while thin people are perceived to be admirable, helpful, focused and psychologically healthy, but also snobbish.

Psychology major Mertz says that she found that her study supports social stereotypes, since it shows that people who are heavy are often portrayed more negatively than thin folks — though the snobby characteristic seems to pair with thin in people’s minds.

“People have to admit, whether we like it or not, we make initial impressions of people and then it’s up to the individual to prove it wrong,” Mertz said. “It’s not just based on dress but on body size as well.”

“Some of the studies that we reference tie in media and show that characters on TV associate the same qualities with the same body types, thus strengthening this trend. Skinny people are the ideal,” Mertz said, who will be doing further study on this topic in the fall.

In the future, the researchers intend to see how one’s own body weight impacts how one perceives others of the same and different body weights, added Hull.

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