People jump to conclusions about someone’s character based on their figure, a new study suggests.
Researchers say that overweight individuals are linked to bad personality traits, such as being lazy and careless.
On the other hand, slimmer people are seen in a more positive light, including being self-confident and enthusiastic.
Additionally, males and females with body shapes traditionally associated with their gender were seen as being more ‘active’, while body shapes not classically masculine or feminine had ‘passive’ traits.
The team, from the University of Texas at Dallas, says its findings are among the first to show how stereotypes based on body shape help form our first impressions.
A new study has found that we view overweight individuals as ‘lazy and careless’ while we view slimmer people as being ‘self-confident and enthusiastic’ (file image)
Previous research has shown that by looking at people’s faces, we conclude information about them, but little research has been done on judgments based on body shape.
‘We wanted to know whether we could link personality descriptor words to body shape in predictable ways,’ said first author Ying Hu, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Dallas.
‘That is, do people look at a person’s body and make snap judgments about whether the person is lazy, enthusiastic, or irritable?’
For the study, the team created 140 realistic body models, 70 of which were male and 70 female.
Next, 76 undergraduate students viewed each model from two angles while 30 trait words were shown on a screen.
The words fell under the dimensions of the Big Five personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
The students were required to pick which words applied to the body type they were looking at.
Participants associated heavier bodies with more negative traits such as laziness and carelessness, and skinnier bodies with more positive traits including confidence and enthusiasm.
Bodies that were typically female (pear-shaped) and typically masculine (broad-shouldered) were identified as having more active traits such as quarrelsome, extroverted, and irritable.
Non-standard male and female bodies were linked to passive traits including being shy, trustworthy and dependable.
From several analyses, the researchers discovered they could predict the personality trait judgments people would make from different body shape features.
‘To our knowledge, this is the first study to consider the role of more nuanced aspects of body shape – beyond height and weight – in personality judgments about people,’ said co-author Dr Alice O’Toole, a professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas.
The authors say that drawing conclusions about personality traits based on body shape is universal, but the exact words chosen likely vary by culture.
Additionally, for future research, the team wants to look at whether the inferences that people make about a specific body type vary by gender.
However, the findings shed new light on how we see first impressions, which shows ‘the complicated and value-based judgments that people make about strangers based only on their bodies,’ Hu said.