Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

People who watch more TV find thinner women more attractive, even in remote Nicaraguan communities

These people had no access to magazines and, generally, no access to the internet.

Flor Rayos and her son watch television at their home in the Totumbla community, in Dario, Matagalpa.

INTI OCON/AFP via Getty Images

What makes for an attractive female body? Whatever your views on this, across cultures, and socioeconomic groups in particular, there are some differences in opinion.


Western media, with its promotion of "thin ideals", has been cited as an influence on attitudes. But the only way to really explore this is to study groups of people who are very similar, except that some have been exposed to Western media, while others have not. Needless to say, this isn't easy. However, a team led by Lynda Boothroyd at the University of Durham has now published just such a set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Their data suggests that TV exposure does indeed drive both men and women towards finding thinner female bodies more attractive.

The team studied residents of seven villages in the remote South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. At the time of the research, these people had no access to magazines and, generally, no access to the internet. Over the past decade, the government has, though, gradually extended the electricity grid through villages in the area, making TV-viewing possible.

These people are mostly subsistence farmers and fishermen, with relatively poor food security. It has been suggested that people in such communities tend to find fleshier people more attractive — so if Western TV does have an influence, this would be a good spot to look for it.


For a first cross-sectional study, the researchers compared attitudes of people with regular TV access (Latin American soap operas, which feature thin, curvy actresses, and Hollywood movies were both popular genres) versus those who didn't yet have it. A total of 314 men and women aged 15 to 79 gave basic details about themselves and rated the attractiveness of 50 colour photographs of women (with their faces blacked out) with Body Mass Indices that ranged from 11 to 42. (A healthy BMI is typically between 18.5 and 25.)

Two factors emerged as being associated with a preference for thinner bodies. One was a higher level of education — and this, the researchers note, implies that someone has spent time studying in a large town, which could have given them earlier access to Western media. The other was TV exposure. Though different ethnic groups had slightly different opinions, when TV viewers vs non-TV viewers of the same ethnicity were compared, the difference in the "ideal" BMI could be at least 5 points. For one group, it was about 22 among the regular TV-watchers vs 27-28 among those who had not been exposed to TV, or who had very little access to it.

The researchers also wanted to explore whether people who didn't have access to TV and then gained it shifted towards preferring thinner bodies. For various reasons, this proved tricky. But for one village, it was possible to gather data on 31 individuals. The analysis did indeed suggest that with TV came a move towards finding a thinner female body most attractive.

For a final study, the researchers tried to mimic the immediate impact of TV exposure. They did this by showing villagers a series of photographs of either thin or plus-sized fashion models. After just 15 minutes of viewing these images, the participants changed their perceptions of the ideal female body size in the direction of the images they had just seen.

"These data strongly support the proposal that visual culture may be a critical contributory factor in the development of attraction in modern humans," the researchers write.

There could be other implications of the work, too. The data "strongly suggests visual media may be pushing preferences below the healthy optimum in nutritionally vulnerable populations such as ours," the researchers write. The most favoured BMI in one of the TV-watching villages was 22.5, for instance: if a woman with that BMI lost a stone of weight during a bad fish season, she would shift to 19.3. That's still within the healthy BMI range, but only just.

And there's another risk: exposure to Western body ideals and a more Western-style lifestyle (including a higher-calorie diet) often go hand in hand, making a thin figure even harder to attain — and promoting body dissatisfaction.

However, the work does also suggest a route to changing unhealthy body ideals: as sheer exposure seems to be so influential, altering the images people see could change perceptions in a healthier direction, too.

Television consumption drives perceptions of female body attractiveness in a population undergoing technological transition.

Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest.

Reprinted with permission of The British Psychological Society. Read the original article.

LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
Keep reading Show less

Your emotions are the new hot commodity — and there’s an app for that

Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Personal Growth

Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.

Keep reading Show less

Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
Keep reading Show less
Future of Learning

The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast