Social comparison and body image in non or infrequent exercisers and exercisers
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Body image refers to an individual's internal representation ofhis/her outer self (Cash, 1994; Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999). It is a multidimensional construct which includes an individual's attitudes towards hislher own physical characteristics (Bane & McAuley, 1998; Cash, 1994; Cash, 2004; Davison & McCabe, 2005; Muth & Cash, 1997; Sabiston, Crocker, & Munroe-Chandler, 2005). Social comparison is the process of thinking about the self in relation to others in order to determine if one's opinions and abilities are adequate and to assess one's social status (Festinger, 1954; Wood, 1996). Research investigating the role of social comparisons on body image has provided some information on the types and nature of the comparisons that are made. The act of making social comparisons may have a negative impact on body image (van den Berg et ai., 2007). Although exercise may improve body image, the impact of social comparisons in exercise settings may be less positive, and there may be differences in the social comparison tendencies between non or infrequent exercisers and exercisers. The present study examined the nature of social comparisons that female collegeaged non or infrequent exercisers and exercisers made with respect to their bodies, and the relationship of these social comparisons to body image attitudes. Specifically, the frequency and direction of comparisons on specific tal-gets and body dimensions were examined in both non or infrequent exercisers and exercisers. Finally, the relationship between body-image attitudes and the frequency and direction with which body-related social comparisons were made for non or infrequent exercisers and exercisers were examined. One hundred and fifty-two participants completed the study (n = 70 non or ill infrequent exercisers; n = 82 exercisers). Participants completed measures of social physique anxiety (SPA), body dissatisfaction, body esteem, body image cognitions, leisure time physical activity, and social comparisons. Results suggested that both groups (non or infrequent exercisers and exercisers) generally made social comparisons and most frequently made comparisons with same-sex friends, and least frequently with same-sex parents. Also, both groups made more appearance-related comparisons than non-appearance-related comparisons. Further, both groups made more negative comparisons with almost all targets. However, non or infrequent exercisers generally made more negative comparisons on all body dimensions, while exercisers made negative comparisons only on weight and body shape dimensions. MANOV As were conducted to examine if any differences on social comparisons between the two groups existed. Results of the MANOVAs indicated that frequency of comparisons with targets, the frequency of comparisons on body dimensions, and direction of comparisons with targets did not differ based on exercise status. However, the direction of comparison of specific body dimensions revealed a significant (F (7, 144) = 3.26,p < .05; 1]2 = .132) difference based on exercise status. Follow-up ANOVAs showed significant differences on five variables: physical attractiveness (F (1, 150) = 6.33,p < .05; 1]2 = .041); fitness (F(l, 150) = 11.89,p < .05; 1]2 = .073); co-ordination (F(I, 150) = 5.61,p < .05; 1]2 = .036); strength (F(I, dO) = 12.83,p < .05; 1]2 = .079); muscle mass or tone (F(l, 150) = 17.34,p < .05; 1]2 = 1.04), with exercisers making more positive comparisons than non or infrequent exercisers. The results from the regression analyses for non or infrequent exercisers showed appearance orientation was a significant predictor of the frequency of social comparisons N (B = .429, SEB = .154, /3 = .312,p < .01). Also, trait body image measures accounted for significant variance in the direction of social comparisons (F(9, 57) = 13.43,p < .001, R2adj = .68). Specifically, SPA (B = -.583, SEB = .186, /3 = -.446,p < .01) and body esteem-weight concerns (B = .522, SEB = .207, /3 = .432,p < .01) were significant predictors of the direction of comparisons. For exercisers, regressions revealed that specific trait measures of body image significantly predicted the frequency of comparisons (F(9, 71) = 8.67,p < .001, R2adj = .463). Specifically, SPA (B = .508, SEB = .147, /3 = .497,p < .01) and appearance orientation (B = .457, SEB = .134, /3 = .335,p < .01) were significant predictors of the frequency of social comparisons. Lastly, for exercisers, the results for the regression of body image measures on the direction of social comparisons were also significant (F(9, 70) = 14.65,p < .001, R2adj = .609) with body dissatisfaction (B = .368, SEB = .143, /3 = .362,p < .05), appearan.ce orientation (B = .256, SEB = .123, /3 = .175,p < .05), and fitness orientation (B = .423, SEB = .194, /3 = .266,p < .05) significant predictors of the direction of social comparison. The results indicated that young women made frequent social comparisons regardless of exercise status. However, exercisers m,a de more positive comparisons on all the body dimensions than non or infrequent exercisers. Also, certain trait body image measures may be good predictors of one's body comp~son tendencies. However, the measures which predict comparison tendencies may be different for non or infrequent exercisers and exercisers. Future research should examine the effects of social comparisons in different populations (i.e., males, the obese, older adults, etc.). Implications for practice and research were discussed.