The fat is in the fire: an inquiry into fatness, the third person effect, and empathy
University of Wisconsin--Whitewater
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This quantitative study was conducted in a Midwestern high school to explore the perceptions of fat people in the media. Research participants in the experimental group were shown an episode of the hit television show, Mike and Molly, which depicts two fat characters who fall in love with each other. Although the portrayals of the fat characters in Mike and Molly has been considered progressive by some, the episode featured several instances in which the characters were teased and hassled for their body size. Participants were then asked to detail their reaction to the video clip, how they feel others would react, how they feel the media should portray fat characters, and to rate their own empathy. This study sought to explore the third-person effect hypothesis, which suggests that others are perceived to be more affected by media messages than the self (Davis, 1983). The third-person effect was confirmed. This study also sought to explore the factors impacting participant reaction: sex, empathy level, and body mass index were all considered. Empathy level was found to be the greatest determinant of participant reaction. Furthermore, the treatment received by those in the experimental group did lead to reported stronger feelings of discomfort with negative portrayals of fat characters than those in the control group. Finally, given the presence of the third-person effect, this study also considered the construct of support of media self-editing. This study discovered that whether research participants received the experimental treatment or not, those with the highest empathy scores were most likely to advocate self-editing.
Body image--Social aspects
Discrimination against overweight persons
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