Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


The Relationship between Direct and Indirect Contact and Weight Bias

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Robert Carels, PhD

Second Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

William OBrien, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Vipaport Phuntumart, PhD (Committee Member)


Despite a current obesity epidemic in the U.S. (Ogden, Carroll, McDowell, & Flegal, 2007), negative attitudes toward overweight and obese individuals have been increasing (Brownell, Schwartz, Puhl, and Rudd, 2005). Interventions aimed at reducing anti-fat attitudes have produced mixed results. One approach that has successfully reduced prejudiced attitudes toward discriminated individuals is intergroup contact, which include direct contact, (i.e., actual contact between outgroup members), imagined contact (i.e., imagined contact between outgroup members), and vicarious contact (i.e., viewing of contact between members of different groups). Despite its success with other forms of bias reduction, intergroup contact has not been examined with regard to weight stigma. The current study examined whether and how various forms of intergroup contact can reduce explicit weight bias among normal weight participants (BMI > 18.5 and < 25). Results indicated that, in the direct contact condition, participants evidenced reduced explicit weight bias and increased behavioral intentions to engage with obese persons. In terms of mechanisms by which bias was reduced, intergroup anxiety and perception of ingroup norms (i.e., how one feels others in their ingroup view outgroup members) was found to differentially mediate the relationship between the direct contact condition and explicit weight, and behavioral intentions. This study highlights the potential importance of positive, meaningful contact between people of different body sizes in reducing negative attitudes and stereotypes about overweight.