Sunday, October 28, 2007

An exploratory analysis into the social psychology of obesity

Abstract: The prevalence of obesity in Western society is on the rise, with no sign of slowing down. Obesity is a heterogeneous disorder, with numerous variables contributing to its aetiology. Today, obesity has reached epidemic proportions, in both the adult and child populations. Obesity can have a number of negative impacts on one’s physical, psychological and social functioning. The first aim of this essay is to address the key social, psychological and physical variables which can contribute to the aetiology of obesity. The second aim of this essay is to explore how obese people are viewed and treated by society. The third aim of this essay is to explore society’s attitudes towards obese people using social psychological theory and research.

Obesity occurs when an individual has, “a greater than twenty percent increase over average body weight” (Berk, 2004, p.278). According to the National Health Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2004, approximately 16.4% of Australian adults are obese, with 17.8% of males and 15.1% of females falling into the obese weight range (ABS, 2006). Not only has obesity reached epidemic proportions in the adult population, it has also become a dominating issue faced by children. Obesity impacts heavily on one’s physical health, substantially increasing the risks of developing serious medical problems. Not only does obesity have a significant impact on one’s physical health, but it can also have serious effects on one’s emotional, psychological and social functioning (Berk).

Figure 1. The aetiology, consequences and social psychology of obesity.

The aetiology of obesity is complex, with numerous social, psychological and physical variables contributing to the development of obesity (See Figure 1). The key contributor to obesity is maladaptive patterns of eating, where one eats an unhealthy, unbalanced diet of high-calorie, fatty foods. Decreased amounts of physical activity and increased time spent engaging in sedentary behaviours have also been linked to obesity. Crespo et al. (2001) found that children who watched four or more hours of television each day had an increased risk of obesity.

Campbell, Crawford, and Ball (2006) found similar results, finding that increased television viewing led to increased energy intake among children. Connected with the issue of increased television watching is the issue of advertising. Children are constantly bombarded with appealing images of unhealthy, junk foods on television. Some companies even entice children to eat unhealthy foods by including toys or by covering the packaging of their products with cartoon characters. With children watching an increased amount of television these days, commercials and product advertising can be very influential on what a child desires or chooses to eat (Nelson, Gortmaker, Subramanian, Cheung, & Wechsler, 2007).

Modeling of unhealthy eating behaviours also plays a role in the aetiology of obesity. If a child is surrounded by tempting food cues in his or her home and school environments, a child is more likely to pick up unhealthy eating habits, especially if family members and friends model unhealthy eating behaviours. Campbell et al. (2006) found children ate more fruits and vegetables if their parents modeled this behaviour. In contrast, the risk of obesity in children increased significantly if unhealthy eating habits were modeled by parents.

Research by Strauss and Knight (1999), found that the most significant predictors of childhood obesity were a lack of cognitive stimulation, parental occupation and socioeconomic status (SES). Children from low SES backgrounds were found to have an increased risk of obesity. Children whose parents were unemployed or had nonprofessional occupations were also found to be at a heightened risk of becoming obese. Another predictor identified in this study was maternal obesity. Children with obese mothers presented a three fold increased risk of becoming obese themselves, indicating both a genetic component and a learned behaviour component. African American children and children of single mothers were also found to present higher rates of obesity.

Research by Goodman and Whitaker (2002) found that unsafe neighbourhoods and a lack of facilities, such as playgrounds and recreational centres, contribute to the obesity epidemic. These factors, which were found predominately in low SES areas, were found to increase social isolation and limit physical activity. Research by Maffeis (2000) and Wardle, Waller, and Jarvis (2002) also found a positive correlation between low SES and obesity, and found that a lack of safe play areas in low SES communities was a contributing variable.

A study conducted by Bulik, Sullivan, and Kendler (2003) found a significant concordance rate of obesity in monozygotic twins, indicating that obesity has a genetic component. Certain medical conditions have also been found to contribute to or exacerbate obesity, such as having a thyroid condition or a slow metabolism (Berk, 2004). In addition to physical contributors of obesity, psychological and emotional variables can also impact upon one’s weight. In a study conducted by Goodman and Whitaker (2002), it was found that depression was a significant predictor of obesity in a sample of adolescents. If not appropriately treated, psychological factors such as depression and anxiety can increase one’s food intake, and in the long run, contribute significantly to weight gain.

Obesity is a highly stigmatised disorder, with social marginalisation, discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping common problems faced by obese individuals (See Figure 1). As a result, obese individuals face a number of social disadvantages in various areas such as employment and interpersonal relationships (Puhl and Latner, 2007). The formation and maintenance of social relationships is a very salient issue. Obese individuals tend to have fewer friendships and intimate relationships and are often stereotyped as lazy, unintelligent, slovenly, unattractive, less hardworking, untrustworthy and unpopular (Hebl & Mannix, 2003). Goodman and Whitaker (2002) found that the social stigma associated with obesity promotes feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt among obese individuals. Therefore, not only can depression contribute to the aetiology of obesity, it can also be a consequence of obesity. Puhl and Brownell (2003) have found that those who are exposed to obesity related stigma are vulnerable to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, social isolation, rejection from peers and economic problems.

Hebl and Mannix (2003) conducted a study which demonstrated the presence of a mere proximity effect, or stigma by association. A male job applicant had his photo taken under two different conditions. In the first condition, the man was seated next to an average weight woman. In the second condition, he was seated next to the same woman, only this time she was wearing an obese prosthesis. The participants in this study were required to evaluate the male job applicant on a number of levels. Ratings on professional qualities, interpersonal skills and overall willingness to hire the male job applicant suffered when the raters viewed the photo of him sitting next to the obese woman. In contrast, the applicant was not evaluated as negatively when the photo with the average weight woman was presented in his application packet. The results indicated that being merely proximally associated with an obese person can trigger stigmatisation.

King, Shapiro, Hebl, Singletary, and Turner (2006) conducted a study focusing on covert discrimination and its relationship with the Justification Suppression Model (JSM). The JSM states that prejudice is either followed by a justification, or a suppression of the prejudice (Crandall & Eshleman, 2003, cited in King et al.). This model proposes that if an individual believes that prejudice is justified, they are more likely to express it. While formal discrimination is less common today as a result of social norms, subtle, interpersonal discrimination towards obese people has increased. Forms of interpersonal or covert discrimination include a lack of smiling, a lack of eye contact and increased rudeness.

King et al. (2006) focused on the interpersonal discrimination of obese people in customer service. It was found that interactions with the obese customers lasted a significantly shorter period of time than the average weight customers. Interactions with obese customers also involved significantly more negative affective language and interpersonal forms of discrimination. However, it was also found that when an obese customer mentioned that they were on a diet and was viewed consuming a low fat drink, covert discrimination was significantly less. However, if an obese customer was drinking a high calorie beverage, discrimination significantly increased, supporting the JSM. If an obese customer mentioned that they were dieting or exercising, covert discrimination was also significantly reduced. This indicates that if it is perceived that the obese person is taking responsibility for their condition and trying to lose weight, discrimination occurs less frequently.

Obesity is often viewed as controllable, so empathy is not often displayed to obese individuals. Holding a belief in a just world could explain the lack of empathy towards obese individuals, as people believe that obese people are responsible for their weight and have brought it on themselves. Since many perceive obesity as a controllable condition, the attached stigma is often unyielding (Puhl & Brownwell, 2003). As King et al.’s (2006) research indicated, if an obese person is perceived as taking responsibility for their weight, they are more likely to experience less interpersonal discrimination and prejudice. Because of the perceived controllability of one’s weight, people often make internal attributions towards obese people and attribute obese people as being greedy and having no self-discipline. That is, people often make the fundamental attribution error, where they attribute a person’s obesity to internal causes or traits and largely overlook external causes (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).

Another theory which could explain the negative reactions to obese people is the social identity theory. In an attempt to maintain their own positive social identity, people engage in social categorisation and make downward social comparisons to enhance their own self-esteem. One method in which people do this is by stereotyping other groups, such as obese people, as inferior or incompatible with their own group (Puhl & Brownwell, 2003). Obesity related stigma could also be explained by the ‘what is beautiful is good effect’, which states that those with physically attractive features are often ascribed more positive traits (Puhl & Brownwell). Since obese individuals do not tend to have the physical features which typify attractiveness, they are often ascribed more negative traits.

Since childhood obesity is a strong predictor of adulthood obesity, this issue needs to be confronted very early on in a child’s life. Once unhealthy behaviours develop, they are can be extremely inflexible and resistant to change, so healthy behaviours need to be instilled in children from a very early age. Obesity can be very damaging, not only to an individual’s physical health, but also to an individual’s psychological, emotional and social functioning.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2006). National health survey: Summary of results. Retrieved 1 October, 2007, from$File/43640_2004-05.pdf

Baumeister, R.F., & Bushman, B.J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth.

Berk, L.E. (2004). Development through the lifespan. (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bulik, C.M., Sullivan, P.F., & Kendler, K.S. (2003). Genetic and environmental contributions to obesity and binge eating. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33, 293-298.

Campbell, K.J., Crawford, D.A., & Ball, K. (2006). Family food environment and dietary behaviours likely to promote fatness in 5-6 year-old children. International Journal of Obesity, 30, 1272-1280.

Crespo, C.J., Smit, E., Troiano, R.P., Bartlett, S.J., Macera, C.A., & Anderson, R.E. (2001). Television watching, energy intake and obesity in US children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 155, 360-365.

Goodman, E., & Whitaker, R.C. (2002). A prospective study of the role of depression in the development and persistence of adolescent obesity. Pediatrics, 109, 497-504.

Hebl, M.R., & Mannix, L.M. (2003). The weight of obesity in evaluating others: A mere proximity effect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 28-38.

King, E.B., Shapiro, J.R., Hebl, M.R., Singletary, S.L., & Turner, S. (2006). The stigma of obesity in customer service: A mechanism for remediation and bottom-line consequences of interpersonal discrimination. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 579-593.

Maffeis, C. (2000). Aetiology of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents. European Journal of Pediatrics, 159, 34-44.

Nelson, T.F., Gortmaker, S.L., Subramanian, S.V., Cheung, L., & Wechsler, H. (2007). Disparities in overweight and obesity among US college students. American Journal of Health Behaviour, 31, 363-373.

Puhl, R.M., & Brownell, K.D. (2003). Psychological origins of obesity stigma: Toward changing a powerful and pervasive bias. Obesity Reviews, 4, 213-227.

Puhl, R.M., & Latner, J.D. (2007). Stigma, obesity and the health of the nation’s children. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 557-580.

Strauss, R.S., & Knight, J. (1999). Influence of the home environment on the development of obesity in children. Pediatrics, 103, 85-92.

Wardle, J., Waller, J., & Jarvis, M.J. (2002). Sex differences in the association of socioeconomic status with obesity. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 1299-1304.

Appendix A


Research and Theory

For my second blog essay, I feel that I identified and referenced a number of the most current and informative research studies on the topic of obesity. I feel that my literature search on this topic was thorough and extensive and resulted in a selection of high quality articles. The literature sources I have included are very recent and up to date studies which focus on the social, psychological and physical contributors to the obesity epidemic. I feel that I was able to effectively identify and explore a number of social psychology theories pertinent to the issue of obesity and relate them back to the research findings.

Written expression

My essay follows the conventions of the APA format, as I have included an informative title, abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, in text citations, a reference list and two appendices, including a self assessment. I also decided to embed a concept map in my essay in an effort to enhance readability. I feel that my writing style is clear and easy to follow. While the readability of my essay was not originally at the desired level (Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 15.4) through editing, I was able to improve the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level to the desired level of 12.

Word Count: 1,552 (Abstract, citations, figures, references and appendices not included)

Online engagement

I feel that my online engagement has been strong throughout the second half of the semester. I have made a series of blog posts pertaining to my blog topic, and I have made a number of in-depth comments on other students’ blogs. My efforts with this assessment component is reflected in the fact that I received three stars for my online contributions, indicating that I had a very active and regular blog. I embedded a couple of videos about obesity into my blog, posed questions to other students, provided resources, embedded pictures and a graph, discussed some research findings on obesity, provided a link to a healthy lifestyle quiz, two draft concept maps, an outline of my essay plan and I attempted to enhance the appearance and readability of my blog. Not only did I post a number of comments on other blogs, but I also received a number of responses to my blog posts, indicating good interaction with fellow students. Please see Appendix B for a list of links to my blog posts. Please refer to the white side bar on my blog for a list of links to the eleven comments and replies I made from weeks eight to fifteen.

Appendix B

Blog Postings from Weeks 8-15

Blog 2 Topic - Obesity

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

Concept Map for Blog 2

Here is a draft of my concept map on obesity. Please let me know if you think anything else should be added to this figure.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

How are obese people treated by society?

Hi Everyone,

In one of my earlier blog posts on obesity, I discussed some of the social factors which can contribute to the obesity epidemic, such as advertising, sedentary activities (e.g. computer games, television), socio-economic status, psychological factors such as depression and anxiety and physical factors such as genetics and medical conditions (e.g. thyroid conditions). The second section of my topic is to discuss how obese people are treated by society and what socio-psychological theories could be used to explain this. I have found a number of research articles which indicate that obese people are frequently discriminated against in society and stereotyped as being lazy, selfish, less hardworking, slovenly and generally less likeable. These negative stereotypes are very damaging to a person’s psychological, emotional and social functioning, as obese people thus tend to have fewer relationships and can become socially withdrawn. I am thinking about drawing on a few different sociopsychological theories in an attempt to explain why obese people are often discriminated against and negatively stereotyped.

* The fundamental attribution error: We tend to attribute a person’s weight to internal causes over external ones. Society thus believes that obesity is a controllable condition and occurs as a result of a person’s lack of willpower or lack of self-discipline, often failing to look at the external contributions.

* Beautiful is good effect: People who possess what society believes to be more attractive features are often ascribed more positive qualities. Since obese people do not typify what society considers to be “beautiful”, they are often ascribed more negative qualities.

* Using stereotypes as heuristics: Relying too heavily on stereotypes can further promote discrimination and prejudice.

* Social identity theory: In an effort to enhance or maintain self-esteem and a positive social identity, people make downward social comparisons and stereotype other groups, such as obese people, as inferior and incompatible with their own group.

* Lack of knowledge: The contact hypothesis could aid in overcoming this.

During my research on this topic, I read a very interesting study conducted by Hebl and Mannix (2003), which is also briefly discussed in the textbook on page 408. The researchers conducted an experiment looking at the mere proximity effect, or stigma by association. This study found that a male job applicant was rated quite negatively when he was seen in a photo with an obese female, while this was not found to occur when he was seen in a photo with an average weight female. Ratings on professional qualities, interpersonal skills and overall willingness to hire the male job applicant suffered when the raters viewed the photo of him sitting next to the obese woman. In actuality, it was the same woman in both photos; the only difference was that she was wearing an obese prosthesis in one of the photos. The results indicated that being merely proximally associated with an overweight or obese person can trigger stigmatisation towards that person, in this case, the job applicant. I have provided the reference below if anyone is interested in reading the article. This has been such an interesting topic to research, and it has really opened my eyes to the amount of obesity related stigma that exists in society.


Hebl, M.R., & Mannix, L.M. (2003). The weight of obesity in evaluating others: A mere proximity effect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 28-38.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Childhood Obesity: An Epidemic

Hi All,

Since my last post focused on childhood obesity, I thought I would follow it up with this video which focuses on the epidemic of childhood obesity. In this video, Dr. Hyman discusses the obesity epidemic in relation to the research of Dr Ludwig, discussing key concepts such as the physical and psychological impacts that obesity has on children, the role of junk food advertising, processed foods, sedentary behaviours (such as watching television), suggestions on how to fight the obesity epidemic and some very alarming childhood obesity statistics. If you have any thoughts on the issues covered in this video, please let me know.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Childhood obesity

Hi everyone,

According to the Australasian Society for the Study of Obesity (2004), over fifty percent of adult females are overweight or obese, while nearly seventy percent of adult males are overweight or obese. Obesity is not limited to adults however, with twenty-five percent of children being either overweight or obese. A number of schools have therefore initiated various school based programs to aid in tackling the childhood obesity epidemic. Such programs implemented in Australia include compulsory physical activity and healthy canteen programs.

One issue which continues to be a contributing factor to the growing prevalence of obesity among children is junk food advertising on television. Below I have provided a couple of links to articles which discuss the proposal to regulate or ban junk food advertising all together. What does everyone else think about this issue? Do you think all junk food advertising should be banned? Do you think that junk food advertising is a key contributor to the prevalence of obesity in Australia? I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

How healthy is your lifestyle?

Hi Everyone,

Since my blog two topic is on obesity, I thought I would post a link to a quiz which focuses on how healthy one's lifestyle is. It encompasses factors such as diet, exercise and sleep, and once you have completed the test, it outlines what areas you need to improve on. I took the test, and it definitely opened my eyes in regards to what unhealthy lifestyle behaviours I engage in and where I need improvement. The test also provides a number of useful links to information and resources, including tips for lifestyle improvement and a BMI calculator. If you would like to take the test, please find the link below.

The Healthy Lifestyle Quiz

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Super Size Me"

Hi All!

Since my blog two question is focusing on the societal contributions of obesity, I thought I would post the opening scene of the documentary “Super Size Me”. One of the contributing factors to obesity is the increasing number of fast food restaurants all over the developed world. While these fast food chains provide the consumer convenience, they are also contributing to the expanding waistlines of the population. For those who have not seen the film, it is a documentary which follows Morgan Spurlock who conducts an experiment focusing on the effects that eating large amounts of fast food can have on a person, demonstrating this by eating nothing but McDonalds for one month. This documentary provides numerous perspectives around obesity, attitudes surrounding obesity and the contribution that advertising, media and fast food corporations play. I think it is quite a powerful documentary. It really made me think about the consequences of overindulging in fast food and junk foods in general.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts on this video clip or if you have seen the whole documentary and would like to discuss anything you found interesting.

Blog 2 Topic - Obesity

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would get the ball rolling on my blog two topic. The question I have selected is:

"Describe the social psychology of obesity. You might consider issues such as:
To what extent is obesity attributable to culture, society, community and family, and to what extent is it attributable to individual physical and psychological factors? How are obese people treated by society and why?"

I am particularly interested in researching the societal factors which contribute to the rising numbers of obese individuals, both in adults and children. The first thing I wanted to investigate was how prevalent obesity actually is in Australia, but also in other countries. The graph below encapsulates this by identifying the developed countries with the highest prevalence rates of obesity (click image to view larger version). This graph indicates that Australia is currently ranked as the sixth highest obese nation, with 21.7% of Australians (fifteen years old and over) now being classified as obese, while 30.6% of U.S citizens are obese.

These are very alarming statistics which continue to rise dramatically. Not only does obesity have a very negative impact on one’s health, it can also be very damaging to one’s psychological well-being, with prejudice and stereotyping both common societal problems experienced by obese individuals. There are so many variables which can contribute to obesity, but here are just a few of the factors I plan to focus on in my essay.

* Emotional and psychological contributors (e.g. low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, depression etc).
* Lifestyle (e.g. lack of exercise, poor diet, stress etc).
* Genetic contributions.
* Medical illnesses.
* Culture (e.g. traditions, celebrations, fast food chains and marketing/advertising).
* The effects of modelling (e.g. family members, friends, peers etc).

For anyone else who is interested in this topic, I have provided a link to some information outlining what obesity is, some of the societal and environmental contributors to the problem and how obesity is measured using one’s Body Mass Index (BMI). Click Here

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The social self: An ever-evolving construct

Abstract: The aim of this blog is to discuss who I am in social psychological terms. The blog examines my social identity, my self-concept and the socio-psychological variables which I believe have shaped my life and who I am. This blog also refers to research studies and social psychological theories in an effort to further explore and understand my social self.

The self refers to “an important tool with which the human organism makes its way through human society and thereby manages to satisfy its needs” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.71). As Stapel and Blanton (2004, p.468) posit, knowledge of one’s social self provides “information that is necessary for navigating, controlling and responding to the social world”. The self is not a fixed entity, rather, it is a dynamic and multifaceted structure which can change depending on social situations (Fiske, 2004, p.170). Situational variables not only influence the manner in which one behaves, but also how one perceives and conceptualises their social identity. There are numerous social psychology theories which can be used to aid in reflecting on the social self.

Figure 1. The socio-psychological variables which have shaped my life.

I am a twenty-one year old, Caucasian female and I am a Uniting Church Christian. While I do not regularly attend Church, I live my life based around the Church’s teachings. I was born in Canberra, and being a member of a military family, I spent most of my life moving around Australia. I have both Australian and British ancestry in my family, however, it has mainly been Australian culture which has shaped my life. If I had been born and raised in another culture, not only could my values and beliefs differ significantly from what they do now, but I would have a whole different life story with a whole different set of experiences and perspectives.

In my life, I have a number of social roles. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend and a psychology student, just to name a few. I have a strong belief in God and I value democracy, equality and respect, and have no tolerance for prejudice, racism and discrimination. I have a strong love and admiration for my family and my close friends and I am very passionate about my university studies. My self-schema includes personality traits such as being friendly, trustworthy, compassionate, respectful and loyal. I also consider myself to be a competitive, driven and often pessimistic person provided the right social situation.

I have also been a part of a number of groups throughout my life. It was through charity and fundraising groups in high school that I developed a love of psychology. I began to witness how various social variables can impact upon people and groups and the negative effects that poverty and discrimination have. I developed a sense of altruism during this time, and pursued psychology and counselling studies as a result. I am now also a member of the student body at the University of Canberra and the Golden Key International Honours Society.

It was during my high school years that I began to realise what kind of person I am, including my strengths, weaknesses and what I value in life. While living in Darwin, I was exposed to Australia’s native, Indigenous culture and traditions. Living there as a Caucasian individual, I was witness to the detrimental effect that racism and prejudice has on those targeted. While previously oblivious to this issue, I learned quite quickly that I was opposed to racism and prejudice in all its forms, and this belief stands true today. This is just one example of where social experiences and contexts have shaped my beliefs, values, morals and social attitudes.

McClelland (1953) proposed three key motivational needs; the needs for achievement, authority and affiliation (Stuart-Kotze, 2007). I developed a strong need for both achievement and affiliation early on in my life. While making friends and being socially accepted was very important to me as a child, I became increasingly driven by extrinsic incentives and the need for achievement became a significant motivating factor. I developed the attitude that I always had to excel academically, and eventually my self-worth became dependant on this. I find myself equating my self-worth with my ability to achieve at whatever I try to do. This factor has been very stable throughout my life, and has never wavered. Not only do I have a strong need for achievement, I also have a strong need to avoid failure (Deckers, 2005, p.205).

According to the looking-glass self theory, individuals learn about themselves by imagining how others perceive and judge them (Baumeister & Bushman, 2004, p.80). I often feel very self-conscious that others are evaluating me and judging the things I say and do, which is very consistent with the spotlight effect theory (Fiske, 2004, p.187). These constant maladaptive thoughts where I believe that people will perceive me in a negative light have contributed to my very shy and reserved public self. In contrast, my private self is more energetic and boisterous. I have often found a major discrepancy between my public and private self. I think this stems from early negative experiences, so I often do feel rather nervous when in certain social situations, sometimes altering my behaviour as a result. While my own self-appraisal is that I can be a very energetic and outgoing, I often believe that I am perceived very differently by others.

As Fiske (2004, p.181) describes, one’s working self-concept varies with differing social situations and contexts. My environment has played a huge role in the development of my social self. While I have never lived outside of Australia, I have been exposed to different sub-groups within Australia. Living in Darwin, I was surrounded by Indigenous individuals and their culture. When I moved back to Canberra, I realised just how different the environment was. As a result, my social self adapted to the new environment and neighbourhood, which also involved rearranging my social identity. Basically, different environments have exposed me to different ways of living and social issues in society.

A study conducted by Tice (1992) found that people are more likely to alter their self-concepts based on interpersonal, public events, as opposed to behaviours which have occurred in private settings. The idea that public events tend to have a greater impact on one’s self-evaluations and self-concept is definitely true of me. In public situations, my behaviour becomes internalised, and I become more self-conscious and anxious as I begin to realise that others could be judging or evaluating my behaviour. I have found that my self-esteem is significantly influenced by public situations. Negative events such as being teased have led me to sometimes approach social situations with caution, as this has been one factor which has altered my self-esteem in the past.

Festinger’s (1954) theory of social comparison proposes that people make comparisons between themselves and others, in either an upward or downward fashion, in an attempt to gain self-knowledge (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, pp.82-83). Self-perception can be either positively or negatively influenced as a result of comparing oneself with another individual (Pelham & Wachsmuth, 1995). Stapel and Blaton (2004) conducted a study focusing on social comparisons. In this study, one group of participants were primed with a photo of a clown, while another group viewed a photo of Albert Einstein. Those that viewed the photo of the clown later judged themselves as very intelligent, while those who were exposed to the photo of Albert Einstein viewed themselves as less intelligent. Similar results were found on other traits, such as friendliness and attractiveness dimensions. As hypothesised, Stapel and Blanton found that even subliminal exposure to comparison information influenced participants’ judgments, opinions and evaluations of themselves.

The social comparison theory often underpins my social behaviour. I compare myself to others constantly, and more often than not, I do this in an upward fashion, where I compare myself to people that I aspire to be like. Since I can be quite introverted in social situations, I compare myself to the more confident and energetic individual who is not afraid to speak their mind in large groups. Sometimes this can have a negative effect on my self-esteem, as I begin to see the discrepancy between my actual self and my ideal self.

The self-discrepancy theory refers to the impact that self-knowledge can have on the way people feel, interact and adapt in social situations. This theory proposes that there a three main selves; the actual self, the ideal self and the ought self (Fiske, 2004, p.199). When I reflect on my actual self, I see myself as a very shy, introverted individual in group situations, but quite an outgoing, energetic person when I am with family and close friends. Ideally, I would like to be more confident in myself in more diverse social contexts, as I am quite a pessimistic person who often underestimates herself in larger groups of people. In regards to my ought self, I feel that I should always be successful at whatever I chose to do. Thus, there seems to be a discrepancy between my actual self and ideal self.

My social self has been evolving constantly throughout my life and will continue to do so. By integrating relevant social psychological theory and research, I am better able to understand my own social identity, self-concept and the variables which shape who I am.


Baumeister, R.F., & Bushman, B.J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth.

Deckers, L. (2005). Motivation: Biological, psychological and environmental. (2nd ed.). New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Fiske, S.T. (2004). The self: Social to the core. In Social beings: A core motives approach to social psychology. (Ch 5, pp.169-214). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Pelham, B.W., & Wachsmuth, J.O. (1995). The waxing and waning of the social self: Assimilation and contrast in social comparison. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 825-838.

Stapel, D.A., & Blanton, H. (2004). From seeing to being: Subliminal social comparisons affect implicit and explicit self-evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 468-481.

Stuart-Kotze, R. (2007). Motivation Theory. Retrieved 30 August, 2007, from

Tice, D.M. (1992). Self-concept change and self-presentation: The looking glass self is also a magnifying gladd. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 435-451.

Appendix A

Self-evaluation of Blog

Theory and Research

I was able to effectively search for and locate journal articles which were very pertinent to my blog one topic of the social self. While one was as recent as 2004, the others articles were published in the early to mid nineties. Therefore, my blog may have benefited from some additional, more recent research studies. However, I felt that these studies revealed some very interesting findings pertinent to my topic and facilitated my essay. While I did not cite a large number of studies, I felt it would be more effective to concentrate on a select few and be clear and concise on how the findings could be applied to my social self. In my blog, I covered a number of different social psychology theories and was able to relate them back to my own social identity and self-concept.

Written Expression

Word Count: 1,497.

Readability analysis:
Flesch reading ease: 40.3
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 12.0

The citations, references and the body of the essay were all consistent with the APA style of formatting. I incorporated a concept map in an effort to shed some light on and explore my social self, while I used the body of the text to explore both the socio-psychological variables which have shaped my life, but also how the relevant social psychological theories aid in explaining my social self. I included an abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, reference list and a self-evaluation attached as an appendix. I also included two additional appendices, one of the links to the various posts I made throughout the term, and a link to a larger image of my concept map. The results of my readability analysis indicate that I was close to the desired readability targets, however, this could have been improved upon.

Online Engagement

I believe that my blog is clear, concise and easy for others to read and follow. I was able to embed a video on Asch’s conformity experiment into one of my blog postings, which seemed to generate discussion. I also provided links to another video and information on Milgram’s classic obedience study. I created my blog early on in the semester and I was the first person to include a test concept map in a blog post. I also added features to the blog such as profile information, interests, a recent photo of myself, a social psychology poll, an internet image and I also provided a list of links to my reply comments/postings to others, as well as a list of comments made by others on my blog (See white side bar for links to my comments). I also made a few brainstorm posts throughout the first half of the semester in an effort to clarify my thoughts and share my ideas with others. See Appendix B for links to these posts.

Appendix B

Links to Blog Posts

Test Post

Milgram's Obedience Study

Asch's Conformity Experiment

First Brainstorm Post

Social Self Brainstorm Post

Practice Concept Map

Social Self Concept Map

Appendix C

Social Self Concept Map: Link to larger image

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blog 1 Concept Map

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would just post my concept map which I am going to include in my first blog. I ended up choosing the social self question. If anyone has any suggestions on how it could be improved, please let me know.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Blog 1 Topic

Hello all!

Well, due to my indecisive nature, I am now thinking about doing my first blog entry on question eight, focusing on the social self. Initially, this was the first question that actually appealed to me, however, I was somewhat apprehensive to tackle it. It’s not everyday you sit down and write about who you are, and why you are the way you are. I have been reading about some social psychological theories which I might discuss in my first blog. Hopefully, by making references to these theories and constructs, I might shed some light on the variables which have shaped my social self. Here are some initial thoughts:

• Self-discrepancy theory (actual, ought and ideal selves)
• Self-perception theory
• Social comparison theory
• Self-concept
• Social Identity
• Self-esteem
• Situational differences and attributions
• Self-schema theory
• Social Roles
• Motives
• Social Feedback
• Looking Glass Self

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Brainstorm for Blog 1

Hi Everyone!

I have started thinking about which topic to tackle for my first blog, and while I am still undecided, I'm thinking about doing question 4, regarding the Government's recent intervention in the Northern Territory Indigenous communities. I lived up in Darwin for about six years, and during that time, I was able to witness and learn about (mainly through school) a number of different Indigneous activities and cultural traditions, such as Dreamtime and traditional art. It was then I also became aware of various other social aspects pertinent to the Indigenous community, particularly the need for improvement in areas of education and health, especially in rural communities. So at the moment, I am leaning towards this topic. I am currently in the early stages of gathering information on this recent intervention, but here are my thoughts so far.

1. Any intervention needs to be a long-term, commited approach, not a short-term project.
2. The approach needs to be holistic and focus on more than just policing the Indigenous communities. For example, ensuring there are sufficient health services, including access to medical treatment and psychological support services, including counselling.
3. Not making generalisations about Indigenous individuals' social behaviours, as this could heighten negative stereotypes and prejudice.

These are just some early thoughts. Any feedback would be welcomed.

Testing my abilities

Hi everyone!

This is simply a test post to see whether I can actually post a concept map in a blog. This is very new to me, so please let me know if it is readable. Here's hoping it turns out okay.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Asch's Conformity Experiment

Hello All!

I have recently been reading about social influences, particularly about normative influence. I know there have been numerous occassions in the past where I have passively "gone along with the crowd" in order to gain acceptance, approval and to avoid friction and standing apart from a group (particularly in larger groups). In high school I learnt about one experiment conducted by Asch. We even reinacted the experiment to test the power of social influence. I have provided a very interesting video about this study (the line study). I think it is a really insightful study into how we can conform if the majority of people in a group hold certain opinions or beliefs. What does everyone think? Do you think you would conform in such a situation? Please feel free to add any comments.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Milgram's Study on Obedience

Hi Everyone!

I thought I would get the ball rolling on my blogs. I am really looking forward to delving into the various social psychology theories and concepts throughout this semester, and I think this blogging process is a great way to discuss topics such as attitudes, emotions, relationships and behaviours with others. Another topic that is of interest to me is that of obedience. Post World War II, Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment focusing on the concept of obedience. For those unfamiliar with Milgram’s experiment, I have included a link to a video and also some more information about the experiment below. Despite the controversial approach used in this study, it provided insight into how our behaviour can be strongly influenced by the instructions of an authority figure. The results of this experiment highlighted that despite their own feelings and moral objections to the administration of electric shocks to others, a number of the “teachers” (those applying the electric shocks to the learners) continued to apply the electric shocks, even at the highest possible voltage, simply because they were instructed to do so!

Here are the links below.

Milgram's Study on Obedience


Please feel free to comment on the experiment. What does everyone think about the nature of the experiment and its findings?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Test Posting

This is just a test post