Implicit Stereotypes Toward Body Type and Cognitive Responses to Food

Implicit cognitive biases or stereotypes toward certain body types have been found to affect individual food choice (McFerran, Dahl, Fitzsimons, & Morales, 2009). Additionally, it is becoming increasingly common for prominent influencers to encourage the consumption of certain foods or dietary practices through Instagram and other forms of social media. The goal of this study is to take advantage of this trend to understand how stereotypes about a social media influencer affect people’s perception of foods.

The proposed study will investigate the influence of stereotypes toward thin vs. overweight social media influencers on healthy vs. unhealthy food choices to better understand how implicit stereotypes about a range of body types influence an observer’s dietary choices. This study will recruit undergraduate William and Mary students to observe apparent social media posts featuring healthy or unhealthy foods presented by underweight or overweight social media influencers, or posts presenting healthy or unhealthy foods alone. After being introduced to the influencers and their recipes, participants will complete a cognitive implicit computer task that assesses their implicit attentional bias toward a range of healthy and unhealthy foods.

We hypothesize that attentional biases of participants who view thin influencers will be more positive toward the type of food they view (healthy or unhealthy) than those who view these foods alone. Further, we predict that participants who view overweight influencers with unhealthy food will show a smaller attentional bias toward unhealthy foods than those who view the unhealthy food alone. Finally, we predict that the type of food chosen will be similarly influenced by the weight of the influencer.