Conscientious Fear of Fat

What should we make of links between personality and fat phobia? Or negative attitudes about people with obesity? Angelina Sutin and Antonio Terracciano have new data to suggest personality traits can tell us some things about the social experience of body weight. The associations they found are interesting. But they leave us with questions. For instance, does a conscientious personality really go along with fat phobia?

Building on Prior Work

The idea that body weight can be associated with certain dimensions of personality is not new. For example, these authors have published earlier research suggesting a link between a conscientious personality and less obesity.

However, this research focused on attitudes about obesity. Not obesity itself. They studied 3,099 mothers, collecting detailed data on personality, weight related attitudes, and social interactions. The found some patterns that were quite clear.

Links Between Personality and Attitudes About Obesity

Neuroticism, for example, is a measure of a personality prone to psychological stress. In this research, neurotic personality traits predicted more negative attitudes toward heavier people. Also, people with this trait were more likely to engage in negative fat talk with their friends and children.

Another pattern was a link between agreeable personalities and more positive attitudes about people with obesity. The same was true for people with more openness to different experiences.

On the other hand, the findings about conscientious personalities are a bit more puzzling. The authors found more fat phobia among people who scored high on conscientiousness. But they found less negative attitudes and interactions linked to that same dimension. Is the fat phobia scale measuring something so different from the attitudes scale? If these data are accurate, they must be.

But if you read the questions that go into these scales, that difference is certainly not obvious. The authors themselves say that this part of their findings is surprising.

The Limitations of an Observational Study

At the end of the day, we are left with the limitations of observational survey research. The authors found some interesting correlations. Personality seems to have something to say about how we deal with this polarizing subject of obesity. Does personality shape our attitudes about weight? Maybe. But it’s probably a bit more complex than that.

So what we have for you here is nothing more or less than food for thought.

Click here for the study. For further perspective, click here and here.

Fear, photograph © Thomas Hawk / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


January 23, 2019

2 Responses to “Conscientious Fear of Fat”

  1. January 23, 2019 at 10:34 am, Allen Browne said:

    Munch! Munch!


  2. January 24, 2019 at 4:07 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Interesting, but complex, indeed. So difficult to disentangle influences of other societal factors such as, religious beliefs, SES, racial and ethnic backgrounds, nationality, cultural beliefs, familial beliefs, to name a few.