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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Jay Jackson


Department of Psychology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne


We examined how personality and past contact experiences influenced participants’ reactions to an overweight versus a normal weight peer whose weight was attributed to forces outside their control or to lifestyle choices. We expected participants to be relatively accepting of an overweight partner if their weight was attributed to forces outside their control. We further expected agreeableness to moderate this effect, such that those high in agreeableness would be more accepting of an overweight peer regardless of attributions. Finally, we expected contact experiences to mediate the relationship between agreeableness and acceptance.

Normal weight participants (N=192) completed the Big 5 Aspects Scale before exchanging essays with a same-sex “online interaction partner” to discuss the “freshmen fifteen.” The essay was manipulated so that the partner was portrayed as being normal weight or overweight (weight manipulation), and either due to lifestyle choices, forces beyond control, or unspecified (attribution manipulation). Participants completed a measure of partner acceptance, and past contact experiences with overweight people.

The data were analyzed using analysis of variance and moderated mediation analyses (Hayes, 2012).Participants were more accepting of a normal weight peer than an overweight peer, F (1, 188) = 4.56, p = .034. The effect of agreeableness on acceptance was significantly moderated by the weight and attribution manipulations, B = -.536, SE=.240, p = .026. Agreeableness was a good predictor of accepting a normal weight peer regardless of attributions. However, agreeableness but was a good predictor of accepting an overweight peer only if his or her weight was attributed to outside forces (e.g., a medical condition). A serial multiple-mediation analysis suggested that the relationship between agreeableness and partner acceptance is mediated by feelings of empathy and favorable past contact experiences with overweight individuals.

The results support a person x situation approach to understanding the dynamics of weight bias and interpersonal interactions with stigmatized peers. At a practical level, they highlight the importance of favorable contact experiences, attributions, and dispositions to help reduce interpersonal friction and promote acceptance.


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Factors Influencing the Acceptance or Rejection of an Overweight Peer

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