Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It's not a scientific article, but its based on one. Once again, hinting at the existence the social processing mechanism in female cognition.

The important take home message is that the media influence isn't just "cognitive", but that it seems to affect the physiology of the female brain. Note; men seem far less influenced by images.


David Foster said...

It would be interesting to repeat the image test for both sexes with a focus on something other than physical appearance--say, ask the subject to imagine himself/herself as being someone obviously successful (getting out of his/her Ferrari and into his bizjet) or obviously unsuccessful. Maybe the result doesn't really demonstrate women being influenced by images *in general* but rather by a specific kind of images.

You might also find my post metaphors, interfaces, and thought processes interesting.

Dex said...

The article notes that the average dress size in the UK is 16 - not anywhere close to anorexic - so these young girls in the study are exposed to larger women in real life and stick-thin models. I see how that supports your contention that the status that comes with fame creates greater impact.
But thin has been "in" for quite some time. With the average Brit or American being overweight now, is it possible that can create some sort of paradoxical behavior?

Anonymous said...

I think advertisers discovered this a long, long time ago with their freedom torches (cigarettes).

The Social Pathologist said...


I think the important point here is that women tend to be more "holistic" in their gathering of information. Men tend to look at the message, whilst women tend to look at the message and its context. Some might argue that this is a good thing but I disagree. Sometimes precision and clarification is required, all that other information is "noise", drowning out the signal.

as Anon @11.17 noted, advertisers have discovered this years ago. Everyone knows that cigarettes are toxic to health, yet advertisers continually associate positive images with their product. Their aim being to exploit this "holistic" approach to influence their target market. Though both sexes are susceptible to this influence, I think women are more so.

The Social Pathologist said...

Female obesity is a complex issue. However female body image is much easier beast to tackle. It's almost de riguer that whenever I need to do a gynaecological examination--(woman undressed)--she will apologise for some self-percieved flaw in her body. Most of the times they are ridiculous. A female colleague recently mentioned how more normal (younger) women were requesting labiaplasties. Porn's pervasive influence.

Females continually compare themselves to the percieved alpha females. Deviation from their standard generates anxiety. You've got no idea how many pretty girls think that they are unattractive and spend considerable portion of their lives miserable. Gorging on sweets and food temporarily makes them feel better. Urban planning and a sedentary "information economy" stops them from expending energy and hence they fatten up.

I was looking a Ferdinand's new website, Retrotic(NSFW). The playmates of the early sixties are different to the females of the late sixties, a considerable "thinning down" has occurred. If you compare Helena Antonaccio with Laura Young, you'll clearly see the difference. Laura Young is clearly the more statistically "normal" woman.

Women, and increasingly men, are told that being a normal weight is good, but continually shown high status physiological freaks as ideals.

Dex said...

Right, not disagreeing with you.

I used to be obese myself and was surprised at the impact of other's reactions to my weight loss. As I was tracking my calories, I noticed that the days where someone had joked that I was losing too much weight or getting too skinny were the days when I had taken in more calories. Their words hadn't been on my mind when I had had the extra helping or whatever, but the effect was there nonetheless. I started tracking that too, as possible, and paid closer attention on those days. I'm male and I think it likely that the impact of feedback is greater on women.I've been married for almost 18 years and am still surprised at the focus my wife has on her physical "flaws". I started telling her sternly to "quit talking bad about my woman." (That gets a rather positive reaction, BTW.) But she can still always find something to neg herself about.

I guess what I was wondering was if there was room for a paradox reaction to the social processor in your model, a tipping point beyond which the woman actually rejects the norm. "I'll never be Twiggy" she says, "so I'll have all the ho-ho's I want and the hell with the gym." Sort of the "preacher's kid" phenomenon. I suspect that there is, but that it requires social support (even negative attention or attention to their anxiety) as well.

The Social Pathologist said...

I guess what I was wondering was if there was room for a paradox reaction to the social processor in your model, a tipping point beyond which the woman actually rejects the norm.

I don't think they ever give up the pressure to conform to the norm, that pressure is always there. The social processor never sleeps.Lot's of women who have lost weight in the 30's and 40's have confided to me that they were lying to themselves when they said they were "happy being fat".

I think the "paradox" reaction is more a rationalisation mechanism which aids in stress diminishment.

Let's take a look at what's going on in such a woman's head. There is stress from hunger, there is stress from not conforming to the social idea. Her mind is not in a good place. A woman's natural inclination is to decrease her stress levels, which she can do that by becoming thin (which may take a long long time) or by alleviating her hunger( quick fix). She chooses the quick fix, and feels temporarily better. The operant conditioning reinforces the behaviour and it becomes habituated. However as a result of overeating, she is fatter and the social anxiety level increases again. The cycle gets repeated.

What I'm trying to say is the "paradoxical" effect is more a rationalisation than socially based effect.

One of the things I've noticed is that anorexics tend to be "tougher and harder" (not in a good way) than the bulimics who seem to be softies and more normal. The bulimics tend to have personalities which let them "give in" to their hunger. The anorexics have wills of steel.

BTW, congrats on the weight loss and for keeping it off. I does take a hell of a lot of effort.

Dex said...

Thanks. Weight loss isn't all that hard after the first few weeks of constant hunger - IF you can keep yourself away from temptation. Eating less can mean lower blood sugar which in turn means less willpower and self-regulation.

I just saw this article which I think you'll find interesting:

Apparently the difference between models' weight and the consumers leads to lowered self-esteem - in any direction.

The Social Pathologist said...


What a fascinating paper! It deserves a post of its own. Stay tuned.