Body Image, Mood, and Televised Images of Attractiveness: The Role of Social Comparison

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Heinherg and Thompson (1995) demonstrated that females exposed to a compilation of media images (commercials) reflecting the current societally sanctioned standards of thinness and attractiveness experienced greater mood and body image disturbance than females who viewed a neutral, nonappearance-related control video Social comparison has been offered as one mechanism for the negative outcomes of such media-based exposures. In the current study, social comparison was manipulated by creating three instructional conditions: comparison, distraction, and neutral. Instructional set did not differentially affect recall of appearance or nonappearance aspects of either an appearance-related collection of commercials or a nonappearance video (e.g., Heinberg & Thompson, 1995). However, participants in the comparison condition self-reported a greater degree of self-to-model comparison than participants in the distinction or neutral conditions. A marginally significant three-way interaction between condition, tape, and time emerged for a measure of appearance dissatisfaction, suggesting that comparison participants' body images were more negatively affected than the other groups. Tape by Time interactions also emerged for measures of anger, anxiety, and depression, revealing that greater distress was associated with the viewing of media images reflecting the current societal bras towards thinness and attractiveness. Dispositional level of internalization of societal values regarding attractiveness moderated women's reactions to the two video presentations. The findings are discussed with regard to sociocultural models of body image and possible implications for interventions for appealance-related distress.

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Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, v. 19, issue 2, p. 220-239