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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The moralization of obesity: Exploring control attributions and disgust as predictors of judgments about obesity

  • Author(s): Ringel, Megan
  • Advisor(s): Ditto, Peter H
  • et al.

Research shows that negative attitudes toward obese people are pervasive and difficult to change (Puhl & Heuer, 2009). The present research was designed to expand our understanding of why obesity attitudes are so entrenched by investigating the extent to which people make moral judgments about obesity. Negative moral evaluations about obesity were hypothesized to positively predict greater control attributions for obesity and disgust reactions toward obese people. It was also hypothesized that moralization of obesity is associated with downstream consequences such as endorsement of discrimination against obese people, inflated estimation of health risks associated with obesity, and the perception of general moral weakness in obese persons. Two studies were conducted, each with samples from and a college student population. Study 1 supported the hypotheses and found that, across both samples, greater moralization was positively associated with control attributions, disgust, and the proposed consequences of moralization. Study 2 tested the hypothesis that moralization of obesity is in part caused by the belief that obesity is controllable. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions in which they read a brief introduction to the survey that emphasized that obesity is largely controllable or uncontrollable. The results from both samples indicated that the manipulation failed to significantly decrease control attributions and thus Study 2 did not provide an adequate test of the causal link between control attributions and moralization. The implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed.

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