British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 37 Issue 1 (March 2019), Pages i-iv, 1-147

Thin idealization and causal attributions mediate the association between culture and obesity stereotypes: An examination of Chinese and American adolescents (pages 14-32)

Few studies have examined age or cultural differences in the stereotypes adolescents have of persons with obesity. The present research explored the hypotheses that American adolescents have more negative obesity stereotypes than Chinese adolescents and that the effects of culture are mediated by weight attributions and thin idealization. Participants (N = 335; 181 female; M age = 14.83 years, SD = 1.57 years) completed measures of thin idealization and causal attributions and made generalizations from and attributions of stereotypical personality characteristics to obese figures. Not only did stereotypes differ between countries, but generalizations of negative characteristics from obese figures increased with age. In addition, American adolescents more firmly endorsed the ‘thin ideal’ and were more likely to attribute obesity to internal causes that Chinese adolescents. As anticipated, between‐country differences in stereotyping were mediated by thin idealization and causal attributions. Findings are discussed in terms of the ‘doctrine of the mean’, social identity theory, and dual‐process theories. Statement of Contribution The development of obesity stereotypes has been the subject of a number of recent studies. Although scarce, research on adolescents’ obesity stereotypes indicates that the strength of these stereotypes increases with age and that these increases are mediated by thin idealization and causal attributions. The current research adds to this growing literature that differences between Chinese adolescents’ and American adolescents’ obesity stereotypes – in terms of the assignment of stereotypical traits to people with obesity and the generalization of negative traits from an individual person with obesity to people with obesity as a group – are mediated by thin idealization and attributions about obesity's causes. The research also indicates that (1) age differences in obesity stereotyping vary as a function of the method used to measure stereotypes, (2) Chinese adolescents are less likely than American adolescents to attribute obesity to characterological flaws, and (3) American adolescents idealize thinness more than Chinese adolescents.

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