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The Development of Body-Build Stereotypes in Males

Richard M. Lerner and Sam J. Korn

Two alternative theoretical positions have been put forth to explain existing body build-behavior associations. A “constitutional,” preformistic formulation has been presented by Sheldon (1940, 1942) and several variants of a “social-inculcation” hypothesis have been proposed in explanation of these relations (Lerner & Gellert 1969; McCandless 1961; Walker 1962). There are two basic elements to this latter position. First, it is held that people have different stereotypes related to different physiques. This premise has been verified in several studies (e.g., Lerner 1969a, 1969b; Lerner & Schroeder 1971a, 1971b; Staffieri 1967). Second, it is held that as a child develops, the imposition of these stereotypes will shape his behavior. To formulate this second premise more precisely, some other issues must be considered.

Research dealing with the social-inculcation hypothesis has not investigated the differential impact of the inculcation of positively and negatively evaluated stereotypes toward physique. What is the effect of a persons having negative evaluation toward his own physique upon the way he perceives himself and others and upon his body concept? Two developmental possibilities suggest themselves. First, the child may conform to the stereotyped behaviors expected of him, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such “direct” shaping is what the present formulation of the social-inculcation hypothesis apparently predicts. Not previously considered, however, is a second possibility open to the child, one which may broaden the focus of this topic. That is, the child may reject any association between the stereotyped behaviors expected of him and his own behaviors. If this alternative were adopted, then one would expect the child to: (1) deny association between his own behavior and those stereotyped behaviors attributed by himself and others to others of his physique; (2) identify himself with those behaviors attributed to a more favorable body build; and (3) show evidence of preferring to have a physique other than his own.

These two alternative formulations of the social-inculcation hypothesis are not mutually exclusive. The former (direct) hypothesis was, however, originated in an attempt to account for existing body build—behavior correlations, correspondences which to a large extent may be based on unreliable and/ or artifactual data (Secord & Backman 1964). In addition, this form of the hypothesis remains incomplete in that it does not inquire into the source of body-build stereotypes; that is, it does not at all explain why certain behaviors are associated with a specific physique. The present formulation, on the other hand, in emphasizing not the direct inculcation of behavior but rather the indirect effects of the stereotypes upon body concepts, allows one to look at some possible concomitants of having an undesirable physique. Although this second hypothesis also involves social inculation, it implies that through the study of how people perceive parameters of both their own and others’ physique, a specification of the possible influences that body-build stereotyping may have for personality development in general may be made. Interest in the tenability and implications of the indirect-effects formulation of the social-inculcation hypothesis led to the present study.

Method

Subjects

Three age groups of 60 males were studied: group 5 ranged in age from 5.2 years to 6.9 years (mean age = 6.3 years), group 15 from 14.0 years to 15.9 years (mean age = 14.9 years), and group 20 from 19.1 years to 20.9 years (mean age = 20.0 years). The subjects (Ss) were selected from kindergarten and first-grade classes from one of three elementary schools in the New York City public schools system, from two public junior high schools, and the oldest 5s were New York City college students in various health or physical education classes. All Ss were white and predominantly Jewish (63%, 55%, and 60% for the three groups, respectively) and Catholic (35%, 38%, and 35%). All Ss were from middle-class (McGuire &: White 1955) urban backgrounds.

Body-build classification—Body build was rated through a modification of the procedure used by Lerner and Gellert (1969) and by Lerner and Schro- eder (1971b). The body builds of all males in a given classroom were independently rated by E and the class teacher in accordance with the following scheme: 1 = fat or chubby, 2 = average, 3 = thin. The scope of the study was limited to include only what has been shown to be the most undesirable physique (chubby) and the most desirable one (average) (Lerner 1969a, 1969b; Lerner & Gellert 1969; Lerner & Schroeder 1971a, 1971b; Staffieri 1967). Thus, only Ss whose body builds were rated 1 or 2, respectively, by both E and the teacher were considered potential Ss. Thirty chubby and 30 average males were randomly selected from each of these larger groups at each age level.

Materials

Verbal checklist (VCL)—In an attempt to gain an understanding of certain dimensions of body-build stereotyping, a list of adjectives, or short phrases, was constructed to reflect: (1) physique or physical attributes (items reflecting attributes of a physique and/or attributes which can be inferred from the nature of the body structure itself); (2) social attributes (items reflecting a person’s behavior to others and/or others’ behavior to a person); (3) personal attributes (personality traits and/or a person’s behavior apart from his behavior toward others). In all, 56 items (28 item pairs) were used—20, 16, and 20 items in each of the aforementioned three categories, respectively. Table 1.1 presents the categories and items of the

Table 1.1 Categories and items of the VCL and their good-bad clustering

Good

Bad

Physique and Physical

Has the most muscles

Has the least muscles

Light

Heavy

Large (5, 15)

Small

Fast

Slow

Strong

Weak

Healthy

Sick

Good looking

Ugiy

Be the best ball player

Be the worst ball player

Thin (5)

Fat

Eat the least

Eat the most (15, 20)

Social

Picks the games to play

Is left out of games

Have many friends

Have few friends

Be picked leader

Not be picked leader

Most want as a friend

Least want as a friend

Doesn’t fight

Fights

Helps others

Selfish

Other boys and girls like him

Teases

Likes other boys and girls

Gets teased

Personal

Clean

Dirty

Smart

Stupid

Honest

Cheats

Neat

Sloppy

Remembers

Forgets

Brave

Afraid

Quiet (5, 20)

Talk a lot

Happy

Sad

Nice

Naughty

Kind

Mean

Note: If all age groups did not agree about the evaluative connotation of an item, the groups making the listed assignment are indicated in parentheses.

VCL, along with other information (described later). Placement of items in categories was done by E and two other independent raters. The percentage agreement between E’s classifications and those of each rater was 87.5 and 85.7, respectively. The VCL categories and their respective items are consistent with the recent findings of Lerner and Schroeder (1971a) concerning the content categories of kindergarten children’s active vocabulary about body build.

Three main criteria governed the choice of VCL items:

  • 1. The word(s) in any item had to be in the active vocabulary of the youngest 5s studied. This fact was substantiated on the basis of a prior pilot study and by other research by Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957), Staffieri (1967), and Williams and Roberson (1967).
  • 2. For ever)' item, one approximately opposite in meaning and/or connotation could be written. This criterion was also substantiated in prior pilot study.
  • 3. So that an assessment of an S’s own evaluative connotation of the stereotype could be made, each item had to be identifiable by S as “something you would want other people to say about you or think is nice to say about someone else,” and with “bad” being defined oppositely.

Stimulus Pictures

Three sets of side-view figure drawings of male endomorphs,1 mesomorphs, and ectomorphs, dressed in bathing suits, were constructed by a professional artist to represent, respectively, males of each age group studied. Drawings conformed to standard examples in the literature (e.g., Lerner & Gellert 1969; Sheldon 1940; Shuttleworth 1949). On all pictures the heads were blocked out in an attempt to minimize responses to anything other than body build.2

Procedure

A 3 (ages of Ss) x 2 (Ss’ body builds) x 3 (age of stimulus pictures) design was used. All 5s were tested individually in each of two sessions. Intersession interval varied unsystematically in all age groups, ranging from 1 to 5 weeks. Group 5 Ss were tested in their classrooms, separated from the rest of their class by approximately 20 feet and usually one or two painting easels. The Ss in groups 15 and 20 were tested in rooms other than their classrooms. All Ss were tested while seated at a table with E to their right.

In session 1, three tasks were administered. Within each age and body- build subgroup an equal number of Ss (и = 5) were randomly assigned to one of six possible orders of presentation of the three tasks.

Task 1

In task 1, E simultaneously presented one of the three age sets of body-build pictures. The order of the pictures in front of S was random. The E told S that the pictures were of three different boys, all of the age range represented in the pictures. The randomly listed VCL items were read to S, who was instructed to “point to the boy you think best fits or goes with each word the most.” Within each age group ten chubby and ten average males viewed one of the three age sets of stimuli; the set of stimuli viewed by any particular S was determined by random assignment.

Task 2

In task 2, E asked S to tell him if the words read to him were “good” or “bad,” with good and bad defined to S as in VCL construction criterion 3 (described earlier). A different random ordering of the VCL items was then read to 5.

Task 3

In task 3, each item pair of the VCL was randomly listed, and which item of the pair was placed first was also determined randomly. The E asked S to tell him which of the words best fit or went with the way he (5) was. The S was also told that he could say that either both words or neither of the words fit him.

In session 2, the three age-appropriate body-build stimuli were presented to S as in task 1, session 1. Following the procedure described in Lerner and Schroeder (1971b), E asked S to make a body-build identification and preference response. After S made his preference response, E asked S to state why he wanted to look like the preferred stimulus.

Results

Analysis of Evaluative Connotation of VCL Items

Based on the data from task 2, an assessment of how the VCL items cluster in terms of good and bad evaluations was made for each age group. An item was considered good or bad if a significant proportion of Ss in an age group gave the same evaluation to the item. Almost all the items were rated good or bad in the same way by all age groups: 52 of the 56 VCL items appeared in the same cluster (good or bad) for all age groups. In all groups over 90% of the items were identified at a level of confidence exceeding p < .001. For more than 44 of the VCL items more than 80% of the 5s in each age group responded in the same way (either good or bad). The VCL items and intergroup agreements are presented in Table 1.1. Finally, since an average of 97% of the VCL items were rated good or bad in the predicted direction for the three age groups, the content validity of this checklist, as being composed of item pairs opposite in meaning and/or connotation, appears verified.

Factor Analysis of Item Attributions to Body Builds

When one VCL item was attributed to a body-build stimulus, what other items also tended to be attributed to that stimulus? That is, did any attributed items cluster together? To address this issue, a factor analysis of the data from task 1, concerning the attribution of items to the body-build figures, was performed. First, a 56 (the number of VCL items) x 56 matrix was formed for each 5 within each age group; each entry on the matrix represented an agreement or disagreement score reflecting which items were attributed to the same stimulus. For example, if the items ugly and sad were attributed to the same stimulus a score of 1 was placed in the appropriate matrix cell, while a score of 0 was used if the two items were attributed to different stimuli. The resulting data were then pooled over the 60 5s within each group, thereby creating a matrix in which each entry had a possible range of 0 (total disagreement) to 60 (total agreement). Each pooled score was then converted to a percentage (agreement score) by dividing by 60, and then the percentage data matrix for each group was factor analyzed (principle component analysis). Six factors were orthogonally rotated (vari- max) for each age group, respectively. In each case three factors emerged. The amount of variance accounted for by each of the three factors was 58%, 36%, and 6%, respectively, for age group 5; 53%, 19%, and 28%, respectively, for age group 15; and 53%, 19%, and 28%, respectively, for age group 20. A conservative cutoff value of 0.4 (p < .01) was used to determine upon which factor each of the VCL items loaded.1 This value was used to avoid placement of an item, that just reached statistical significance, into a factor. Using this criterion, all 56 items loaded on one of the three factors in group 5; with group 15 only one item did not meet this criterion; with group 20 four items were excluded.

The content of the factors was highly stable across age. Of the 56 items, 70% loaded on the same factors in all age groups. Of the 24 items rated good 20 (83%) were factored invariantly across age. Of these 20 good items 95% loaded on factor 1 (mesomorph). Of the 28 items rated bad 17 (61%) loaded on the same factors across age. Of these 17 bad items 76% loaded on factor 2 (endomorph). The remaining items loaded on factor 3 (ectomorph). Of the four items not given a significant rating differentiating good or bad, two loaded on the same factors across age. Of the 17 items (30%) loading on different factors across age, four were rated good, 11 bad, and two were not significantly differentiated good or bad.

Identification of the factors: body-build stereotypes—Through the use of %2s, the three factors were identified by determining which items were most frequently associated with each stimulus. The statistical procedure followed those typically seen in the literature (Lerner 1969a, 1969b; Staffieri 1967). Since this analysis exactly reiterated the findings of the factor analysis, its several details are not presented here.4 However, the major findings of this analysis are useful to present. First, attribution did not significantly vary as a function of the body-build-of-subjects variable. This finding, confirming the results of Staffieri (1967), indicates that the body build of the person doing the attributing does not appear to affect the choice of attributes selected. Second, relative variability in attribution was found across the age-of-subjects variable. Thus, unlike the results of previous studies (Lerner 1969a, 1969b; Staffieri 1967), we find that the age of the person doing the attribution appears to play an important role in this process. Finally, this analysis allowed an identification of the factors to be made. At each age level, respectively: (1) all items loading on factor 1 were attributed to the mesomorph; (2) items loading on factor 2 were associated with the endomorph; and (3) items loading on factor 3 were attributed to the ectomorph. Thus, this analysis indicated that in all age groups the majority of all good items loaded on the mesomorph factor, while bad items loaded most on the endomorph factor, and to a smaller extent on the ectomorph factor.

In sum, for all VCL categories attribution may be conceived of as the increasing association with age of bad items to the endomorph and good items to the mesomorph, and the presence of body-build stereotypes appears relatively continuous within the age range sampled. Finally, since no significant differences in the stereotypes obtained as a function of the 5s’ body build, one may conclude that both chubby and average 5s shared a common body-build stereotype.

Assumed Similarity and Dissimilarity Analyses: Self-Perception

At each age level both chubby and average 5s view the endomorph unfavorably and the mesomorph favorably. The question thus arises as to whether males with a given physique tend to describe their own behavior as being similar or dissimilar to the behavioral characteristics associated with the body-build figure similar to their own.

Fiedler (1958) has indicated that the tendency to assume another person to be similar to oneself is indicative of an accepting attitude on the part of the perceiver, while the perception of another as dissimilar indicates a rejecting, distant attitude. If chubby 5s described themselves as more similar to the mesomorph stereotype than to the endomorph stereotype, then this would suggest that these 5s have a rejecting attitude toward their own physique and implies a negative body concept.

The assumed-similarity (AS) and assumed-dissimilarity (ADS) scores were derived by determining the number of VCL items each 5 attributed to each stimulus figure and the corresponding items (from task 3) selected as being “like his self" or “not like his self.” These numbers were then converted to the percentage of total self- or not-self attribution, respectively, for each stimulus figure. The results of these analyses are presented in Table 1.2.

36 Empirical Beginnings

Table 1.2 Percentage of VCL items each S selected like himself or not like himself that were also identified with body-build stimulus figures designated

Age

Croup

Similarity (Like Self)

Dissimilarity (Not Like Self)

Endomorphab

Mesomorph•’

Ectomorphab

Endomorph

Mesomot

ph Ectomorphxbc

5:

Chubby

■ 33.8

29.5

36.7

49.0

20.8

30.1

Average

32.9

37.0

30.1

47.9

19.3

32.8

15:

Chubby

■ 30.4

53.2

16.5

32.7

23.7

43.7

Average

18.5

58.1

23.4

47.8

19.3

32.9

20:

Chubby

■ 30.7

50.9

18.3

36.3

24.9

38.8

Average

22.0

49.0

29.1

44.9

23.5

31.6

a Significant analysis of variance effect related to age group of Ss. b Significant analysis of variance effect related to body build of Ss. c Significant analysis of variance interaction effect related to age X body build of Ss.

In all age groups, chubby 5s viewed themselves as having more of the attributes they associated with body types other than the endomorph. Of the items chubby Ss in all age groups chose as like themselves, only one-third or fewer were those associated with the endomorph. In group 5, the chubby and average Ss viewed themselves as having attributes that were as likely to be associated with one or another of the three stimuli. In groups 15 and 20, however, the chubby and average Ss were alike in that they considered about half the items they associated with the mesomorph as like themselves. The average Ss in these older groups were less likely to consider the endomorph attributes like themselves than the chubby Ss. This same general pattern was seen in the item Ss considered not like themselves (assumed dissimilarity). In group 5 almost half the items rated as not like themselves were those associated with the endomorph. Both chubby and average Ss considered mesomorph attributes least frequently as not like themselves. This response to mesomorph attributes was also seen in the two older groups. In groups 15 and 20 the pattern of responses was quite similar, although chubby and average Ss did differ somewhat. The average Ss considered almost half the endomorph attributes as not like themselves, while chubby Ss considered more of the ectomorph attributes as not like themselves.

In terms of Fiedler’s (1958) work, these data suggest that chubby Ss maintain a rejecting, negative valence toward their body build. While showing evidence of aversion for their own build, chubby males express an affinity (e.g., preference) toward a physique other than their own. Thus, in no age group do chubby Ss have their highest AS scores associated with the endomorph, and in all age groups their ADS scores for the endomorph are higher than that for the mesomorph.

Development of Body-Build Stereotypes 37

Table 1.3 Percentage of body-build self-identifications and preferences by chubby and average Ss in each age group studied

Age Croup and Body Build of Si

Body-Build Identification

Body-Build Preference

Endomorph

Mesomorph

Ectomorph

Endomorph

Mesomorph

Ectomorph

5:

Chubby

26.7

60.0

13.3

0.0

53.3

46.7

Average

3.3

63.3

33.3

10.0

63.3

26.7

15:

Chubby

60.0

36.7

3.3

0.0

96.7

3.3

Average

0.0

83.3

16.7

0.0

96.7

3.3

20:

Chubby

60.0

36.7

3.3

0.0

96.7

3.3

Average

0.0

80.0

20.0

0.0

93.3

6.7

Body-Build Identification and Preference

The percentages of identification and preference responses to each body- build stimulus by the chubby and average Ss in each age group are presented in Table 1.3. In all groups, average Ss more frequently identified themselves correctly as mesomorphs than chubby Ss identified themselves as endomorphs (p < .01). In the two older groups about 80% of the average Ss were correct, while only 60% of the chubby Ss were correct. In group 5 the same pattern is evident, although the percentage of correct identification is lower. Of the chubby Ss in group 5, 60% incorrectly chose the mesomorph as like themselves, but between groups 5 and 15 a significant (p < .05) increase in correct body-build identification obtained for chubby Ss.

When body-build preferences are examined, almost all of the chubby and average Ss of the two older groups preferred the mesomorph and none preferred the endomorph. Significant age differences obtained between group 5 and group 15, but not between the two older groups. Thus, between groups 5 and 15 we find a significant increase in preference for the mesomorph (p < .05), as well as a significant decrease in preference for the ectomorph (p < .01) by chubby Ss. The overriding preference for the mesomorph in groups 15 and 20 appears incipient in the younger Ss. Moreover, exclusion of the endomorph in the preference responses is almost universal within the age range sampled.

Reasons for Body-Build Preferences

An indication of the reasons underlying Ss’ body-build preferences may be found in an analysis of their answers to the open-ended question pertaining to this choice. Each Ss response was categorized as being either physical, social, or personal, or any combination of these three. Definitions of these categories followed those for the respective VCL categories.

38 Empirical Beginnings

Table 1.4 Categorization of reasons for body-build preferences expressed by chubby and average Ss in each age group studied (%)

Age Croup

Physical

Characteristics

Personal

Characteristics

Social Characteristics

Chubby

Average

Chubby

Average

Chubby

Average

5

90.0

86.3

6.7

10.0

23.3

33.3

15

96.7

93.3

6.7

16.7

20.0

23.3

20

100.0

90.0

3.3

16.7

36.7

33.3

Note: All characteristics alone or in combination with others.

All categorizations were made by E and an independent rater. Interrater agreement exceeded 90%.3 Table 1.4 presents the categorization of 5s’ reasons for body-build preferences. The marked similarity in responses across age and body-build groups is striking. In all groups the predominant reasons for body-build preferences were physical in nature. The proportion in which physical factors were included in the response categories did not differ among age or body-build groups.

Discussion

The indirect-effects formulation of the social-inculcation hypothesis appears best able to account for the results found with both the chubby and average Ss. Having comparable knowledge of the parameters of body-build stereotypes, Ss having unfavored or favored physiques are differentially affected. The former group rejects the association between the stereotype and their own behavior, describes their behavior as consistent with the stereotype of a more favored physique, prefers to look like the favored physique, and does not identify their own behavior as being similar to the unfavored one. On the other hand, Ss having a favored physique appear to accept the relevance of the stereotype to their own behavior, prefer to have the physique they possess, and accordingly identify their own body build as being most similar to the favored mesomorph. Thus, it appears that as an indirect effect of the body-build stereotypes a negative body concept is inculcated in chubby children, while in average children a positive body concept is formed. These indirect effects appear to be relatively stable within the age range sampled. Finally, this formulation allows a specification of the source of body-build stereotypes to be made through an interrelation of our results with some concepts from the person-perception literature.

The predominant verbal category used by our Ss to express their body- build preferences was physical in nature, and other frequently used verbal categories included a physical component. This trend obtained across such variables as age, body build, and by inference, positive or negative body concept of Ss. The mesomorph was preferred and the endomorph was non-preferred, and it may be that a basis for these relations is found in prevalent values of our culture. It appears that the physiognomy of the person stimulus provides a primary, salient dimension of others’ approach (preference) or withdrawal (aversion) behaviors toward a person; thus, it is not surprising that in our health-, youth-, and athletic-oriented society' the mesomorph should be preferred and favorably' stereotyped, while the chubby person, whose fatness is linked with circulatory and respiratory diseases, should be unfavorably stereotyped and not preferred. It may be that this culturally based body-build preference and aversion is one of the major sources of body-build stereotypes.

In forming our impression of others it is cognitively economical to place people into categories (Secord & Backman 1964). As suggested by our data, an important determinant of what category we place a person in may be his phy'sique characteristics. One may hypothesize that someone with a mesomorphic physique would be put into a preferred, or favorable, category', while someone with an endomorphic body' build would be categorized as nonpreferred, or unfavorable. Such categorization would be followed because of the prevailing cultural emphasis on health and phy'sical fitness; the mesomorph presents a stimulus in accord with this cultural orientation, while the endomorph is discrepant with it. This culturally based categorization allows the perceiver to then bridge the gap between phy'sique and behavior/personality attribution through an inference process termed “metaphorical generalization” (Asch 1958) or “reasoning by analogy” (Secord 1958). That is, in making the initial preferred or nonpreferred categorization it is likely that the perceiver may infer that the mesomorph has behaved in way's allowing him to be in the favored category (e.g., exercise, diet), while the endomorph has behaved oppositely (overeating, lack of physical exercise). Since these behaviors are inferred to have placed each person in the favored or unfavored category, respectively, they will accordingly' be positively' or negatively' evaluated. Similarly, since the mesomorph has behaved in favorable ways and the endomorph in unfavorable way's, any behaviors attributed to them would tend to be seen as favorable and unfavorable, respectively. Conversely, if a perceiver has a behavior/personality trait to attribute and it is favorable, he should assign it to a mesomorph, while if it is unfavorable it would be attributed to the endomorph. In this way' the dichotomized positive-negative mesomorph-endomorph body- build stereotypes would obtain.

Acknowledgments

This study is based upon a dissertation submitted by the first author to the Graduate Faculty in Psychology, the City' University of New York, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy. The first author expresses his gratitude to Sam J. Korn for his guidance as thesis adviser and to Ann H. Rees and Harold Webster for their service on the thesis committee. The authors thank Jerry O’Dell, Department of Psychology, Eastern Michigan University, for assistance in data analysis, and Christine Schroeder and John Knapp for critical readings of the present version of the paper. Reprint requests should be sent to Richard M. Lerner, Department of Psychology', Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197.

Notes

  • 1. The terms “endomorph,” “mesomorph,” and “ectomorph” are used only as descriptive labels, denoting the physiques represented in the stimulus figures. Such use is consistent with other recent uses in the literature (e.g., Lerner Sc Schroeder 1971a, 1971b) and is in no way intended to correspond to Sheldons (1940) somatotypologi- cal meanings.
  • 2. Copies of the stimulus figures may be obtained from the author Lerner upon request.
  • 3. A copy of the results of the factor analysis for each age group may be obtained from the author Lerner upon request.
  • 4. A copy of the fj analyses of item attribution to each body build may be obtained from the author Lerner upon request.
  • 5. Examples of the coding of Ss’ reasons for body-build preferences may be obtained from the author Lerner upon request.

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