Date of Award:

2016

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Gretchen Gimpel Peacock

Abstract

The present study investigated perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs toward individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) of varying weight. The primary aim was to examine the associations between eating disorder symptom level and stigma toward eating disorders, perceptions of acceptability/desirability of AN, and perceptions of severity of AN. The second aim was to investigate the impact of body weight on males’ and females’ perceptions and attitudes toward AN, specifically on their stigma toward eating disorders, perception of the severity of AN, and perception of acceptability or desirability of AN behaviors and characteristics. Two-hundred fifty-seven university students (187 females, 70 males, mean age = 22.5, SD = 6.59) in undergraduate courses participated in the online study, and were randomly assigned to view one of three underweight female figures (extremely thin, moderately thin, and mildly thin). Participants read a vignette describing an individual meeting full diagnostic criteria for anorexia and completed measures assessing stigma toward individuals with AN and eating disorder symptomatology.

Regarding the first aim, it was hypothesized that an inverse relationship would emerge between eating disorder pathology in participants and stigmatizing attitudes and beliefs. In support of the hypothesis, findings revealed that increased acceptability of AN and greater perceptions of AN severity were associated with higher levels of eating disorder symptoms. In contrast to the hypothesis, current self-reported eating disorder symptoms were not significantly associated with lower levels of eating disorder stigma. It was also hypothesized that female participants would perceive AN as more positive and acceptable, and as less severe than male participants. The hypothesis was partially supported in that females indicated less stigma toward EDs and reported perceiving AN to be more serious than males. Greater acceptability was not more common among women. In regard to the second aim, there was no significant group differences found in eating disorder stigma, perceived acceptance of AN, and perceived severity of AN according to weight conditions, which was contrary to expectations. Implications of the study are discussed in terms of future research.

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