Body image distortion following social rejection or acceptance cues

Wenting Mu, Michelle Schoenleber, Ariana Castro Leon, Howard Berenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Body image has been shown to be subject to explicit, body-related feedback influences, yet little attention has been paid to subtle feedback about overall social acceptability. The current study tested competing hypotheses regarding women's body image after being primed with cued social rejection or acceptance. Whereas sociometer theory predicts that women will perceive their bodies more negatively following a social rejection prime, self-enhancement theory predicts the opposite. Method: A total of 105 female undergraduate students underwent a conditioning procedure in which distinctive tones were paired with signs of social rejection or acceptance. After this, body distortion (measured by a participant-adjusted virtual image), self-reported body satisfaction and affect were measured, while one of the tones sounded repeatedly in the background. Results: Compared with the acceptance condition, rejection condition participants reported greater state negative affect, F(1, 103) = 4.41, p = .04, greater state positive affect, F(1, 103) = 5.52, p = .02, and perceived their bodies as being smaller, F(1, 103) = 6.53, p = .01, consistent with the expectations of self-enhancement theory. Discussion: Implications of these findings are discussed regarding improved understanding of body image disturbance as well as development of novel clinical treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-408
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Social and Clinical Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Body image
  • Eating disorder pathology
  • Social acceptance
  • Social rejection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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