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The effects of media exposure on body dissatisfaction and cognitive bias in adolescent girls and boys

By Hannah Rebecca George


The transmission of information by the media about the ideal body has been highlighted as a cause of body image problems. Exposure to such information is hypothesised to increase appearance-related cognitive bias and body dissatisfaction. Two socio-cultural influences, ideal internalisation and perceived pressures from the\ud media, are postulated to be individual risk factors for these effects. Investigation of body dissatisfaction is particularly important in adolescents when body image problems become prominent.\ud \ud Aims were to investigate the effects of exposure to an appearance-related magazine feature on adolescents’ body dissatisfaction and appearance-related cognitive bias, and\ud the effects of internalisation and perceived pressures on these relationships. Participants were 124 boys (Mage = 12.9) and 125 girls (Mage = 13.0). After viewing either an appearance-related or neutral magazine feature they answered questions about the feature then completed a word-stem and a sentence completion task, two visual analogue scales measuring body dissatisfaction, and a measure of socio-cultural influence.\ud \ud Girls exposed to an appearance-related magazine feature had higher levels of bodyshape dissatisfaction than those exposed to a neutral magazine feature. There was no\ud effect of exposure on boys’ body dissatisfaction and no effect on appearance-related cognitive bias for either gender. Socio-cultural influences did not affect these\ud relationships, although girls with high levels of these experienced the highest levels of body dissatisfaction.\ud \ud Both media exposure and socio-cultural influence negatively impact on girls’ body image, but seem to have little effect on boys. This has implications for the development\ud of media literacy interventions aimed at addressing body image problems. Limitations in the measurement of cognitive bias and in the salience of the stimuli could explain the\ud null results. Further research on the causes of body dissatisfaction in boys is needed, as is investigation into the effects of a variety of stimuli and developments in measures of cognitive bias for use with adolescents.\u

Publisher: Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences (Leeds)
Year: 2010
OAI identifier:

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