First Advisor

Randy Blazak

Term of Graduation

Spring 1998

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Overweight persons -- Public opinion, Obesity -- Social aspects, Body image -- Social aspects, Attribution (Social psychology)



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 127 pages)


This research explores the relationship between beliefs about and attitudes toward fat/obese persons, specifically in regard to issues of attribution and perceived responsibility for the physical condition. The purpose of the research is to assess the extent to which fat/obese persons are derogated, given whether or not they are perceived to be held responsible for their fatness/obesity. It utilizes attribution theory (Heider, 1958; Jones & Davis, 1965; Kelley, 1967; Weiner, 1986), in particular, internal locus of control and issues of consensus and distinctiveness (Kelley, 1967) and controllability (Weiner, 1986). The main hypothesis is that fat/obese people will be viewed more positively if their fatness/obesity is understood as outside of their control. A questionnaire was administered to Portland State University undergraduate students (n=215). Allison's ( 1991) Beliefs About Obese Persons and Attitudes Toward Obese Persons scales were used on the instrument, along with silhouette figures (Stunkard, Sorensen, and Schulsinger, 1983), exploratory questions, and demographic variables. Two variations of the questionnaire were randomly administered, one with the term "obese" in all questions and the other with the term "fat." A second hypothesis proposed that there would be a difference in outcome between the two versions of the questionnaire, depending on the body size term used. Other hypotheses explored figure assessment differences and demographic variable relationships to scores on the beliefs and attitudes scales.

The first hypothesis was analyzed with bivariate correlation testing and was supported for the "fat" variation, but not the "obese" variation of the questionnaire. For the second and subsequent hypotheses, one-way analysis of variance testing was performed. Analysis of the second hypothesis showed a difference in perception of the terms "fat" and "obese" with respect to several of the variables. Differences were also found between male and female ideal body type figure assessments and between "fat" and "obese" body size estimations.

Further studies to investigate effects of age, ethnic background, and body size variables are suggested.


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