Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Understanding Explicit and Implicit Anti-fat Attitudes and their Relations to Other Prejudiced Attitudes, Controllability Beliefs and Social Desirability in Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Bonnie Berger, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Eric Dubow, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Robert Carels, PhD (Committee Member)


Children as young as preschoolers have been found to hold anti-fat, pro-thin biases. These anti-fat attitudes persist through adolescence and into adulthood. Anti-fat attitudes can have serious social and psychological implications for people of all ages. Not only are anti-fat attitudes widespread and potentially harmful, these attitudes may have unique characteristics that differentiate them from other prejudicial attitudes. Unlike some other forms of prejudice, anti-fat attitudes have become more prevalent over time, people are willing to admit to holding anti-fat attitudes, and even individuals who are fat also hold anti-fat attitudes. The current study investigated children's, adolescents' and young adults' anti-fat attitudes in comparison to other attitudes such as racial prejudice, and prejudice against smokers and individuals with physical disabilities. Attitudes were measured both explicitly and implicitly. Furthermore, participants' level of social desirability and their beliefs about the controllability of being a member of the target groups (being fat, African American, physically disabled, or a smoker) was assessed and compared to their explicit and implicit attitudes. Results indicated that explicit anti-fat attitudes remained stable across age groups and implicit anti-fat attitudes became more negative with age. In addition to displaying implicit negative biases against fat people, participants in this study also held explicit and implicit biases toward smokers. However, contrary to past research, these attitudes were not related to participants' beliefs about the controllability of being fat or being a smoker. Further research is needed to clarify the origins and basis of people's negative attitudes toward these groups.