Social Comparison And Body Image: An Investigation Of Body Comparison Processes Using Multidimensional Scaling

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A total of 1,760 females and males were assessed for cognitive social comparison processes regarding physical appearance. Participants ranged in age from middle school (7th and 8th graders) to college juniors and seniors. Multidimensional scaling techniques were used as the analytical strategy. The results revealed the existence of two primary comparison dimensions: weight/non-weight and muscle/non-muscle. Males and females differed substantially in the cognitive organization of appearance comparison schemas along these two dimensions. Females emphasized body sites and parts along the weight/non-weight continuum whereas, for males, body areas along the muscle/non-muscle dimension were emphasized. Essentially no developmental trends were identified: comparison schemas for 7th graders through college seniors were virtually identical. The findings are discussed in light of the emerging role of body comparison tendencies as a potential risk factor for body image and eating disturbances.

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Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, v. 21, issue 5, p. 566-579