September 15, 2008

Social perception of obesity

Caption for figure:
1. Lean (L - narrow shoulders, thin torso and extremities, knee and elbow joints thicker than thy and arm diameter). 2. Muscular (M – Broad shoulders, curved extremities, chest and abdominal muscles shown, thy and arm diameters greater than knee and elbow joints). 3. Slightly fat and feminine (F – rounded shoulders, cylindrical extremities). Each of the three body forms was represented with (designated by +) and without (−) abdominal obesity as shown in rows. The sequence of these figures was randomized during the test and the figures were labeled serially by alphabets.

From the paper:
hysical characters were associated with the appropriate body forms as expected. The physical traits strong, rough and tough and physically aggressive were associated with the muscular non-obese [M−] figure. Lethargic was associated with F+. Disease prone was significantly associated with L− on the one hand and F+ on the other indicating that people negatively associate both the extremes with health. The trait swift was also strongly associated with L−. The traits that are not obviously physical were also strongly associated with certain body forms. Brave, conscious about looks, influential, dominating, status conscious, modern and confident were associated with M−; physical risk avoider, money minded, political, rich, stupid, selfish and greedy were associated most strongly with F+; friendly, intelligent, methodical, business risk avoider, successful, loving, kind, and honest were associated with F−; and L− was the commonest choice for swift, physical risk avoider, talkative and the trait depressed was associated with L+ [table 1].

Link to Table 1.

PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003187

Obesity as a Perceived Social Signal

Manasee Mankar et al.


Fat accumulation has been classically considered as a means of energy storage. Obese people are theorized as metabolically ‘thrifty’, saving energy during times of food abundance. However, recent research has highlighted many neuro-behavioral and social aspects of obesity, with a suggestion that obesity, abdominal obesity in particular, may have evolved as a social signal. We tested here whether body proportions, and abdominal obesity in particular, are perceived as signals revealing personality traits. Faceless drawings of three male body forms namely lean, muscular and feminine, each with and without abdominal obesity were shown in a randomized order to a group of 222 respondents. A list of 30 different adjectives or short descriptions of personality traits was given to each respondent and they were asked to allocate the most appropriate figure to each of them independently. The traits included those directly related to physique, those related to nature, attitude and moral character and also those related to social status. For 29 out of the 30 adjectives people consistently attributed specific body forms. Based on common choices, the 30 traits could be clustered into distinct ‘personalities’ which were strongly associated with particular body forms. A centrally obese figure was perceived as “lethargic, greedy, political, money-minded, selfish and rich”. The results show that body proportions are perceived to reflect personality traits and this raises the possibility that in addition to energy storage, social selection may have played some role in shaping the biology of obesity.



miz RAND BLOWTON said...

What does one mean by "Perception" of obesity? I thought obesity was a fact,a measurement,that a person has excess,unneeded FLESH dangling on their body frame. AKA-Extra Beef On The Bone. Even with body mass index measurements to go by ,I'd say if you've got extra flesh anywhere then that could come off.Round pumpkin people are an exception;their fat is so smooth as to seem part of them,so it's hard to tell how much is necessary and how much is excess flab.Body shape is genetic too-many of my matches are build something like me.

Crimson Guard said...

This kinda blows out the "Leptomorphs" being the most physically progressive and virile,lol.

Most Mesomorphs are of medium height btw.

The Sangha said...

Over a 4 year span I went from L+ to M-, so I think a person can radically change his body type fairly quickly with little or no personality change (although I am somewhat more aggressive than I used to be).

Also, the untold truth is that many muscleheads are users of anabolic steroids, which artificially increase muscle mass and decrease body fat percentage.

One conclusion that can safely be drawn is that those with more attractive physiques generally have higher levels of motivation, discipline and confidence.