TAMIU Study Finds Peers Influence Female Body Image
Posted: 6/9/11

TAMIU Study Finds Peers
Influence Body Image

For females, being around pretty teen girls or young women reduces body satisfaction, according to research by two Texas A&M InternationalUniversity professors.

The study, published in June/July volume of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, was conducted by Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson, TAMIU associate professor of psychology; Dr. Mónica E. Muñoz, assistant professor of psychology; Sandra Contreras, counseling psychology graduate student and Kristina Velásquez, counseling psychology graduate student.

“Research on media influences on behavior and self-perception often over-emphasize the media’s influence. While the media may play a role in how we react to the world around us, peers and family have a more immediate influence on our everyday lives,” said Dr. Muñoz.

The results, she added, have interesting implications for understanding how poor body image and eating disorders may develop.

“Evidence that the media play a large role in eating disorders appears to be quite thin and conditions such as anorexia nervosa may even be motivated by things other than just body dissatisfaction,” Dr. Ferguson said.

During the study, participants were exposed to females who could pose competition for them.

“Overall we found that peer effects, the tendency for females to compare themselves to pretty women in their environment, were a strong predictor of body dissatisfaction,” observed Ferguson.

“The influence of peer competition, however, was moderated by body mass index, where females with a low body mass index (BMI) were most influenced by peer competition. Although we had few females with low BMI, this finding was surprising and is worthy of further exploration,” explained Muñoz.

They also found that the presence of an attractive young male enhanced peer competition.

“Women know they're not really competing with women on TV; it's the women in their neighborhood they have to worry about,” said Ferguson.

We need to explore situational influences other than media influences. Peer competition is one such situational influence that may have strong evolutionary explanations and very interesting implications for understanding how issues with poor body image and eating disorders may develop,” said Muñoz.

Ferguson suggested encouraging girls and women to make fewer negative comments to each other about appearances.

“Body dissatisfaction appears to relate to issues closer to home. Fewer negative comments to each other about appearance may bear more success than on our culture's obsession with alleged media effects,” Ferguson concluded.

For more information, contact Muñoz at mmunoz@tamiu.edu or 326.2618 or visit offices in Dr. F. M. Canseco Hall (CH), room 302D, or Ferguson at cferguson@tamiu.edu or 326.2636 or visit offices in CH 302C.

University office hours are Monday – Thursday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Fridays, 8 a.m. – noon.

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Relations, Marketing and Information Services at prmis@tamiu.edu