Psyched Out by Weight Bias

You might think that academics in a graduate school of psychology would not be susceptible to weight bias. You would be wrong. A recent study of admissions interviews for a graduate school of psychology found that the interview process favored thinner candidates. Consistent with weight bias in other settings, the impact was greatest on female candidates.

The lead author, Jacob Burmeister, commented:

For all intents and purposes, these applicants were even. But people conducting these interviews consciously or unconsciously perceive thinner applicants to be better.

Ted Kyle spoke to the Wall Street Journal for the Obesity Society about this finding, saying:

We have yet another example of weight bias at work. The latest research and recent events drawing attention to the bias against heavier students could make schools — and employers — more aware of the biases that can exist in their decision making. Once you’re aware of your bias, you can start to take them out of the way. Someone’s weight is a physical characteristic that has nothing to do with their intellectual capacity, their character, their discipline, or their drive.


This finding of weight bias in an academic setting is no outlier. We reported here on an earlier study that found weight bias against university acceptance in Great Britain. And psychology professor Geoffrey Miller recently stepped into a nasty situation when he tweeted:

Dear obese PhD applicants: If you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.

The incident sparked an investigation of Miller by the University of New Mexico, where he has served on an admissions committee. It also inspired a joyfully defiant Tumblr meme: F— yeah! Fat PhDs.

The present study is especially relevant because the recent AMA ruling that obesity is a chronic disease has led legal experts to speculate that weight related discrimination will become increasingly unacceptable under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA applies to post-secondary education in universities.

It’s about time.

Click here to read more in the Wall Street Journal MarketWatch, click here to access the study in Obesity, and click here to read more about the missteps of Professor Miller.

Gateway to (Lexical) Knowledge, photograph © Jonathan Cohen / flickr

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