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Student Links Body Image, Social Interaction

Does body image affect the way you interact with those around you? Are you constantly unsure of yourself and the social interactions in your daily life? Nicholas Forand, PhD candidate in clinical psychology, has linked body image to social interactions –possibly connecting depression to eating disorders in the process.

Forand’s conclusions are based on data he collected while conducting a recent study on subjects with different body perceptions. Some had “body dissatisfaction”—they were dissatisfied with their bodies and did not put large amounts of time or energy into their bodies. The other subjects had a “high body image investment.” These volunteers put a lot of work into their bodies and they were very concerned about how they looked.

For one week, every volunteer was required to carry a palm pilot and answer questions after each one-to-one interaction, including:

  • Did you perceive the interaction as warm or cold?
  • Was the other person dominant or not?
  • How much control did you have over the interaction?
  • Was the interaction positive or negative overall? What feelings are you experiencing after the interaction?

 

Body Image Breeds Social Perceptions

Forand discovered that the two groups reacted to interpersonal reactions quite differently. Individuals with high body dissatisfaction perceived their personal interactions as colder and more negative, whereas people with high body investment had a normal range of perceptions related to their interactions, with some good and some bad.

However, when subjects with high body investment did perceive a negative interaction, it affected their mood and self esteem more strongly. According to Forand, these people would experience a much greater negative drop in mood—one that might last for a long time. This type of reaction is called hypersensitivity.

 

Eating Disorders and Depression

Forand believes his research will provide a better idea of how interpersonal functioning is affected by a negative body image. This research could lead to discoveries in the relationship between these responses and the development of psychopathologies like depression. Forand postulates that connections may exist between an individual’s interpersonal interactions and the emergence of an eating disorder or depression.

 

From Self-Image Doesn’t Affect Only You,” by Robert Soos, CAS ’09, Catalyst, Fall 2007