Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Weight-Related Humor: Effects on Expression of Attitudes about Obesity

Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Psychology/Clinical

First Advisor

Robert Carels (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Gary Heba (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Anne Gordon (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

William O'Brien (Committee Member)

Abstract

Having extra body fat places one in a low-status social group. People with obesity face numerous negative social consequences such as stigma and prejudice. This stigma exists in many domains including interpersonal relationships, work, school, and mass media. In television and film, characters with obesity are rare and when present they are often the targets of humor and ridicule. Research has established that attitudes toward stereotyped groups can be affected by short-term exposure to stereotypical media portrayals. Additionally, humorous presentation of disparaging stereotype-related information can alter expression of attitudes toward low-status groups. This study sought to uncover how humor and disparagement interact to affect individuals' attitudes about people with obesity.

In Study 1, participants were randomly assigned to read a list of derogatory jokes about obesity, read a list of derogatory comments about obesity, or read jokes that were unrelated to obesity. All participants were then asked to report their 1) attitudes toward people with obesity in several domains, 2) level of belief in stereotypes about obesity and 3) judgment of the social acceptability of jokes about obesity. Participants' scores on these dependent measures did not differ across groups. There were no significant interactions between the independent variable and any participant characteristics.

Study 2 was designed to 1) present participants with a stronger stimulus and 2) detect effects for the gender of the recipient of the derogatory humor. Participants were shown a compilation of video clips from film and television programs that featured derogatory humor targeting an obese character. They were randomly assigned to either watch videos that targeted female characters, watch videos that targeted male characters. Dependent variables were identical to Study 1. Participants' scores on these dependent measures did not differ across groups and there were no significant interactions between the independent variable and any participant characteristics.

These results suggest that brief exposure to derogatory weight-related humor may not affect individuals' attitudes toward people with obesity. These results were true for both written jokes and video clips presenting weight-humor. Reasons for the unpredicted finding are discussed and include stimuli characteristics, unmeasured moderators, and prejudice norm theory.

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