Behavioural Science Blog

The Science of Human Behaviour

Upcoming Blogposts February 2010

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Just a quick post today to let you know what you can expect in the next few weeks. I am very excited about these upcoming posts, as I have only seen some concept versions – and yeah – they did look very promising!

Pamela Smith is writing on an article about power. She is a powerful woman and it’s also her topic of expertise. Thanks Pam – I am really looking forward to reading your article!

Sanne Nauts just called me about an article we have written together (ready to be published – yeah!). But that’s not what you are gonna get to read (however thinking about it…that might also be interesting) – she really knows all about the backlash effect and what women on a job interview should and should not do.

Fred Hasselman is my personal hero of Nonlinear time series analysis & Dynamical modeling. Don’t worry – he says he has come up with an ingenious way to communicate these topics to people with an IQ lower than 150 (world première!).

Hubert de Mey did give the best lecture I have ever had the opportunity to listen to (about why Skinner got it right and Chomsky got it wrong – such a pitty that battle was lost a few decades ago). He is going to write about why it is really really important to have a theory when doing research (and why mapping brain regions to “something” – does not make sense).

I have also been talking to Daniel Fitzgerald about a possible contribution to this blog. I can tell you more about it in a couple of weeks, but it will most probably be a series of short video interviews on fMRI research and technology.

I am really excited that this blog is growing and attracting such high quality writers. However if you are reading this and you are a student (=like me) I would like to tell you this: Don’t be scared – we’re all a big family. Your contribution is just as valuable – so keep it coming!

Your pretty excited

Martin Metzmacher

New Authors – Welcome!

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If you have been at the Radboud University in Nijmegen lately – you might have seen this ad (PDF). The Behavioural Science Blog is looking for new authors. Lots of them!

Writing this blog (together with Christina now for some times) has been one of the most interesting and also rewarding steps I have taken in my academical carrier.

Behavioural Science is often characterized by ground breaking, but very low-level research. Oftentimes it is only a very select group that actually read the article and  often projects get abandoned, because the end goal “scientific article” is so far away.

I also wonder sometimes why we, as scientists, still use this very complicated system of scientific journals. Okay let’s be honest. Peer reviewed journals are very important when it comes to select high quality research – that’s for sure. But what is with all those really good, but not perferct research? And what is about those great ideas that you have, but never act upon?

As we enter the digital age this will all change – communication will be open, instead of closed. Ideas will spread fast, instead of slow and (from my perspective the best improvement) “ordinary” people will have access to scientific data and ideas.

However the language suited for writing for a select group of knowledgable people is different from the style when writing for “normal” people. It’s all about “What does that tell us?”, “WOW” and “Oh yes…I can use this piece of information for doing X!”.

This is what the Behavioural Science Blog is all about – and I think Dan said it best (so I put it in the ad):

Join us in our quest for high-quality and comprehensive articles written for those who want to follow the latest research, but find traditional sources inaccessible.

Change won’t come on its own.

Join it now and get your message out there!

If you want to become a part of this blog just send me an email and tell me a little bit about who you are and what you would like to write about. Videos, pictures, articles – it’s all welcome. The only thing I ask from you is that it comes in a format that makes it comprehensive to a large group of people, not only scientists in the field of behavioural science.

This has been a great journey for me and I enjoyed every bit of it. I hope you will enjoy it, too!


Martin Metzmacher

Written by Martin Metzmacher

January 12, 2010 at 11:44 am

How popular beliefs about obesity contribute to the growing problem

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Obesity is becoming more common in western cultures. Because the genetic component linked to obesity remains the same as it has in the past, there is an increased concern about the cultural and environmental causes of overeating (Lissner, 1997). Affluent western cultures have higher incidences than cultures that have more limited resources. Western cultures also hold more beliefs about individual control over outcomes and value thinness more than non-western cultures (Klaczynski, Goold, & Mudry, 2004). Both of these observations contribute to the increased problem of weight control and overeating in western cultures. Beliefs about individual control are associated with negative affect toward people with obesity and these beliefs are internalized by people who struggle with overeating themselves (Fabricatore & Wadden, 2004). Additionally, the pressures to be thin in western societies contribute to feelings of failure in people battling overeating. In turn, the prejudice and negative attitudes toward obese individuals negatively impacts body esteem subsequently leading to binge eating (Klaczynski, Goold, & Mudry, 2004).

The influence of prejudice and negative attitudes toward people struggling with overeating is widespread. In 2004, Fabricatore and Wadden stated that in the U.S. “ridicule and disparagement of obese individuals seems to remain a socially acceptable form of prejudice” (332). Unfortunately, this prejudice extends from the medical community to the mental health community to the population of overeaters themselves (Fabricatore & Wadden, 2004; Klaczynski, Goold, & Mudry, 2004; Brownell & Puhl, 2003). The scope of this prejudice is so widespread that it does not leave much of a window of opportunity for individuals who are stigmatized by this stereotype to seek the help that they need to overcome their eating problem. Additionally, it increases the risk for low body image, thus enhancing the likelihood for further binge eating. The relationship becomes almost circular in nature.

Another implication of the prejudices that people hold toward overeating and obesity is that it leaves a much smaller window of opportunity for treatment of overeating. Brownell and Puhl (2003) suggest that “negative attitudes in physicians may lead obese persons to avoid seeking health care” (p.16). Additionally, having the belief that overeating and bingeing is due to internal flaws such as laziness also decreases the likelihood that overweight people will seek help or continue with their treatment programs if they fail to see improvement (Brownell & Puhl, 2004).

A study by Klacynski, Goold, and Mudry (2004) investigated people’s attributions of the causes of obesity and found that after stereotypes of obesity were primed, scores that attributed obesity to internal causes increased whereas scores that attributed physical and social causes for obesity remained the same. That is, being thin is an achievement of will and, therefore, being fat (the antithesis) is likely due to lack of will. They also found a negative correlation between self-esteem and anti-fat attitudes and negative stereotypes of the obese. More crucially, this correlation remained significant among participants who’s BMIs were 25 or higher (with 24 being the upper limit in the “normal” weight category). This suggests that the prejudice is so strong that it permeates into the group at which it is targeted.

Body esteem has been linked to obesity such that people with low body esteem who are also exposed to other risk factors are more likely to engage in binge eating (Klacynski, Goold, & Mudry, 2004). Low body esteem is related to negative attitudes about obesity and overeating and is related to the beliefs people hold about obesity (whether it is due to internal or external causes). More specifically, the negative attitudes people hold about obesity mediate the relationship between beliefs about control and body esteem: people who believe that overeating is due to lack of motivation and control over their own eating habits are more likely to hold negative views toward those who overeat, and consequently, negatively influences body esteem (Klacynski, Goold, & Mudry, 2004). Another explanation is that individuals who suffer from the negative stereotypes adopted from beliefs about control and negative attitudes toward obesity are more likely to experience low body esteem which contributes to binge eating. Both explanations are in accordance with the dual-pathway model which shows that low body esteem is negative affect which is a risk factor for binge eating (Van Strien & Ouwens, 2007).

Due to the rampant prejudice toward individuals with obesity and the unfortunate consequences of that prejudice, it is not surprising that there is a steady increase in weight related disorders, particularly overeating. Additionally concerning is the notion that people generally hold internal causes of obesity as the strongest influence on overeating with lesser consideration for the physical and social causes. Because these beliefs are associated with prejudice, and subsequently low body imagine and binge eating, it is particularly difficult for those who struggle with binge eating to overcome it. The prevalence of prejudice within the mental health and medical realms is overwhelming. Awareness and training of the known risk factors and maintenance of overeating is called for in these fields, and perhaps more thoroughly with the public in general, to help individuals at risk for overeating.

References

Brownell, K., & Puhl, R. (2003). Stigma and Discrimination in Weight Management and Obesity. Health Systems, 16-18.

Fabricatore, A.N., & Wadden, T.A. (2004). Psychological Aspects of Obesity. Clinics in Dermatology (22), 332-337.

Klaczynski, P.A., Goold, K.W., & Mudry, J.J. (2004). Culture, Obesity Stereotypes, Self-Esteem, and the “Thin Ideal”: A Social Identity Perspective. Journal of Youth and Adolescence,33, 307-317.

Lissner, L. (1997). Psychosocial aspects of obesity: Individual and societal perspectives. Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition (41), 75-79.

Polivy, J. & Herman, C.P. (2002). Causes of eating disorders. Annual Review of Psychology (53), 187-213.

Van Strien, T., & Ouwens, M.A. (2007). Effects of distress, alexithymia and impulsivity on eating. Eating Behaviors (8), 251-257.

Written by Christina S

November 20, 2009 at 3:01 pm