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Body size, ethnicity and gender: The effects of target and perceiver variables on impressions of figures

Ngoc Hong Bui, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Both target effects (characteristics of the person being judged) and perceiver effects (characteristics of the perceiver) have been found to be important in forming impressions and perceptions of others. In many situations with no interaction between perceiver and target, physically identifiable characteristics (e.g., body size, race, and gender) of targets and corresponding characteristics of perceivers (e.g., body image, gender, and race) may be important in social perception. In past research body image was used as a dependent variable, however, it may act as a cognitive framework used to understand others. The present studies investigated effects of target and perceiver variables on impression formation. In Study 1, White perceivers rated twelve photographs varying on three target effects: body size (overweight, average, and underweight), race (White and Asian), and gender (male and female). In Study 2, Asian and White perceivers rated the twelve photos and these perceiver groups were compared. Results from Study 1 showed that extreme body size targets (overweight and underweight figures) were perceived more negatively than average size figures. Previous studies purport society's preference for thinness, however, this general preference may not be as pervasive as once thought. Also, Study 1 results showed overweight female targets were more positively perceived than overweight male, yet underweight males were not perceived as positively as underweight females. These findings support previous studies where the ideal male body is muscular in build but not thin. However, since overweight female figures were rated higher than overweight male figures, this may indicate changing perceptions of the ideal female body. Additionally, Study 1 participants rated Asian figures more positively in some cases than White figures, indicating that the ideal image is not necessarily a White image. Finally, Study 1 results showed that body image did not significant relate with social perception ratings, contrary to hypothesized. In Study 2, results comparing Asian and White perceivers revealed more positive perceptions of Asian targets by White perceivers than by Asian perceivers. Cultural values and other differences may explain this finding, but it is uncertain why these patterns appear, therefore these effects need to be considered further. Implications of this research on the study of social perception were discussed and suggestions for further research were also explored. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

Recommended Citation

Bui, Ngoc Hong, "Body size, ethnicity and gender: The effects of target and perceiver variables on impressions of figures" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967358.