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Thesis Thomas CHAZELLE

Thesis defence

From 1 October 2021 to 19 December 2023

Social influence on body representation: Experimental approach of the effect of media and weight labels on body size judgments

Body representation is the set of cognitive functions that track the state of the body. It is involved in a variety of situations, such as the perception of the physical dimensions of the body, action, and the generation of attitudes towards the body. To perform these functions, it relies on the flexible use of a range of sensorimotor information, as well as on the individual's beliefs, expectations and emotions. Among the sources of information available about the body, social influence can be a risk, maintenance, and severity factor in body image distortions. However, while social influence on the attitudinal aspects of body representation is well established, there is little experimental evidence of such influence on its perceptual aspects. The aim of this thesis is to study the integration of social information into the perceptual dimension of the representation of body size. To this end, we conducted a series of experiments with young women, a demographic that is particularly prone to distortions of body representation. A first axis focuses on interpersonal influence by testing the effect of weight labels on perceptual judgments. To investigate their informational influence, we manipulated the reliability of multiple cues to study how they were combined. Our results indicate that weight labels have a limited influence on judgments of body size. A second axis focuses on another type of social influence, media influence. Visual overexposure to specific body types is associated with body dissatisfaction, and could help explain the perceptual and attitudinal distortions of body representation. In this context, visual adaptation to bodies could explain how prolonged exposure to thin bodies can lead to an overestimation of one's own body size. We tested some of the hypotheses of this adaptation theory of body image distortion. These experiments highlight some limitations of the adaptation account; in particular, it is uncertain whether adaptation effects can influence the representation that individuals have of their own bodies. In conclusion, our results suggest that the perceptual dimension of the representation of body size may be resistant to some types of interpersonal and media social influence.

- Supervisor : Richard PALLUEL - (richard[dot]palluel[at]univ-grenoble-alpes[dot]fr)
- Supervisor : Michel GUERRAZ - (Michel[dot]Guerraz[at]univ-smb[dot]fr)

Keywords  : Body representation,Body image,Informational social influence,Visual adaptation,Weight labels,Multi-cue integration


From 1 October 2021 to 19 December 2023



Submitted on 15 November 2023

Updated on 16 November 2023