Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Wayne Harrison

Second Advisor

James Thomas


In this thesis, three areas are described: the phenomenon of body dissatisfaction among apparently normal-sized women from a sociocultural perspective; social comparison theory, which is proposed to be the mechanism by which the phenomenon operates; and the results of an experiment designed not only to test the nature of the phenomenon itself, but also to test certain components of social comparison theory, such as selection of comparison targets and the role of derogation.

The study reports women’s responses to inescapable social comparison on the attribute of body size and shape with two groups of social comparison targets: photographs from popular magazines of (1) thin female models and (2) heavy female models. Thus, examined was a single episode of social comparison with media targets on a single salient dimension-body size and shape.

The hypotheses tested were: (1) women who engage in inescapable social comparison with heavy models will show less decrease in body esteem or mood and less incidence of reporting a feared fat self than will the women who view thin models, and (2) women engaging in inescapable social comparison with thin models may manage that potential threat to their body esteem or well-being by derogating the thin models on perceived traits more than will those women comparing with the heavy models. The experiment succeeded in operationally testing both hypotheses. The independent variables were heavy versus thin comparison targets and opportunity versus no opportunity for explicit derogation. The comparison targets differed significantly on body size, but not on attractiveness. The four main dependent variables (body esteem, mood, possible selves, and derogation) were found to have adequate reliabilities and some were from known, validated instruments.

The hypotheses were not supported, although one mood factor, anxiety, was negatively correlated with having an opportunity to derogate (p. = .03). However, the reliability measure for this mood factor was rather low (Chronbach’s Alpha = .47). The role of media consumption is discussed in relation to social comparison processes.

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Psychology Commons