Conformists at more risk of eating disorders: study

January 14, 2010 By Bob Beale

( -- Young women who conform to the expectations of others and follow the crowd are more likely than non-conformists to have a negative image of their bodies and signs of eating disorders, a new psychological study suggests.

Being conformist appears to be a risk factor for such disorders and may provide a target for therapeutic efforts to treat them, says Dr Lenny R. Vartanian of the UNSW School of Psychology and Ms Meghan M. Hopkinson, a student in the Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, in a report published in the journal Body Image.

The researchers also found that young women who are well connected into social networks are less likely to be conformists and so less likely to develop a negative body image or bulimic symptoms.

The study involved 300 American college students with an average age of about 19 and aimed to investigate links between social connectedness and conformity and how they relate to an individual's body image.

The participants were asked about their age, height and weight, then completed a series of questionnaires to assess their social connectedness, conformity, body image concerns, dietary restraint and bulimic symptoms. They were also tested for their "internalisation of social standards of attractiveness" - a way of assessing how much people "buy into" those standards.

"In a general sense, conformity can be seen as an attempt to gain security in a social network," the report says. "People are highly motivated to feel that they belong and having strong is associated with better psychological health, whereas rejection and isolation are associated with poor psychological health.

"Once individuals have achieved the sought-after social security and feel a sense of connection to others, they should have less of a need to conform to external influences, and therefore be less likely to internalize societal standards of attractiveness, and less likely to develop problems and behaviours."

"Perhaps harnessing a focus on an individual's own internal qualities (rather than on external sources of influence) might help reduce conformity and, consequently, reduce internalization, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating," they suggest. "This focus on internal qualities, however, might be difficult for individuals who lack a clearly defined sense of self."

The researchers caution that the study represents only a snapshot of female college students, who are known to be a high-risk group for developing body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

For older adults, volunteering could improve brain function

October 17, 2017
Older adults worried about losing their cognitive functions could consider volunteering as a potential boost, according to a University of Missouri researcher. While volunteering and its associations with physical health ...

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

Magic mushrooms may 'reset' the brains of depressed patients

October 13, 2017
Patients taking psilocybin to treat depression show reduced symptoms weeks after treatment following a 'reset' of their brain activity.

Living near a forest keeps your amygdala healthier

October 13, 2017
A study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development has investigated the relationship between the availability of nature near city dwellers' homes and their brain health. Its findings are relevant for urban ...

Scientists researching drugs that could improve brain function in people with schizophrenia

October 12, 2017
Virginia Commonwealth University researchers are testing if drugs known as HDAC inhibitors improve cognition in patients with schizophrenia who have been treated with the antipsychotic drug clozapine.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2010
I'm not sure they could have put together a more obvious study. "People who care about what others think are more likely to go to extremes to seek the approval of their peers."
Jan 15, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.