Think About It: Does Your Weight Bias Reflect Your Beliefs?

ThoughtsWhat does it take to change the explicit and implicit bias that people have about others and themselves based solely upon body weight or fatness? New research tells us that we should pay attention to cognitive dissonance. In other words, we should be asking, does our weight bias reflect our beliefs? Or is there a conflict between the two?

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we feel when our behavior is out of line with our beliefs. We might say that we don’t judge people by their appearance, race, or weight, but sometimes our actions don’t align with those stated beliefs. We might label this as hypocrisy.

In a randomized controlled trial, Emily Kramer, Evava Pietri, and Angela Bryan tested whether a cognitive dissonance intervention could affect implicit or explicit anti-fat bias. They tested for an effect on explicit bias toward oneself as well as bias directed at others.


The point of a cognitive dissonance intervention is to make people stop and think about the possibility that how they believe is out of line with how they behave. In the case of weight bias, many people believe they should not devalue others based upon their size and weight. So an intervention that causes them to stop and consider the possibility they are doing that might help with changing the underlying bias.

This is what Kramer et al tested. And they found significant effects for this kind of intervention. It was especially effective when the intervention was about self-directed bias – thinking less of oneself based upon size and weight. With such an intervention, they saw significant reductions in both explicit and implicit weight bias. They observed a reduction in both self-bias and bias directed at others.

Of course, this research is not the final word on reducing weight bias. But it does offer an important insight. Asking ourselves a fundamental question can be helpful for overcoming weight bias. Does our weight bias reflect our beliefs about what is right?

Click here for the study by Kramer et al and here for a systematic review of dissonance interventions to help change health behaviors. For some everyday examples of the cognitive dissonance many people experience, click here.

Thoughts, painting by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis / WikiArt

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April 29, 2024