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Disgust and perceived control in attitudes toward obese people



Efforts to explain negative attitudes toward obese people have centered on beliefs about the controllability of body weight, whereas other processes (such as the emotion of disgust) have been largely ignored. This study examined the role of disgust in evaluations of obese people, as well as other social groups (for example smokers, drug addicts, women, homosexuals, politicians).


In three studies, participants (total N=524) made ratings of how much they believe that obesity is a matter of personal control, indicated how disgusted they are with obese people, and reported their attitudes toward obese people. In Study 1, participants also made similar ratings (perceptions of control over group membership, disgust, and attitudes) for 15 additional social groups.


Disgust was the strongest predictor of negative attitudes toward obese people, and disgust fully mediated the association between perceptions of control and attitudes toward obese people. In addition, obese people were rated less favorably, and as more disgusting, than almost all social groups. Across all social groups, perceived control over group membership was positively correlated with disgust ratings, and disgust mediated the link between perceived control and favorability ratings.


These findings indicate that disgust is an important, yet understudied, component of weight bias. Furthermore, these findings situate representations of obesity in a broader context by establishing similarities with other social groups.

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I thank Danielle Arigo, Daria Bakina, Kristin Heron, Kelly Filipkowski, Lindsay Kraynak, and Lauren Miller for the discussions that motivated this work; Lisa A Williams for her advice on the strategy used for the social-groups analysis; and Rebecca T Pinkus for her helpful comments on this article.

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Correspondence to L R Vartanian.

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Vartanian, L. Disgust and perceived control in attitudes toward obese people. Int J Obes 34, 1302–1307 (2010).

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