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Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



First Advisor

Deborah Schooler

First Committee Member

Gary N. Howells

Second Committee Member

Stacy Rilea


Media sources, often containing ideal body images, put forth the message of selfimprovement and the need to achieve a thin physique. For some women, striving to achieve an ideal body can lead to increased risk of engaging in disordered eating, anxiety, and an increased fixation toward body or weight stimuli. Previous research examining the relationship between body satisfaction and attention toward body related stimuli has often compared clinical eating disorder and non-clinical samples. However, these findings do not give an accurate picture of how non-clinical samples respond to thin body images. The present study sought to determine if engaging in a downward social comparison would negate the "fixation" or increased attention given to body images.

Female participants from a university in northern California were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions: downward or upward social comparison. Participants were asked to view an advertisement of a model, and write based on a

prompt developed to elicit a downward or upward social comparison. Selective attention toward body related stimuli was then assessed through use of a Stroop task, which randomly displayed thin female silhouettes and abstract images. Error rates and reaction times were recorded, with more errors and slower reactions times reflecting increased attention toward the female silhouette.

A hierarchal linear regression found an association for the downward social comparison condition and self-esteem. Longer reaction time toward body images was seen among women who engaged in a downward social comparison and had low levels of self-esteem. Among women with high BMI, less selective attention was observed. Comparisons of the groups on reaction times, error rates, and body image measures are discussed.



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