The new study found that when a thin person was seen laying down watching television, people assumed they were resting. But when an overweight person was relaxing, the same group assumed that the husky individual was lazy and unmotivated.
Study participants viewed a number of pictures that would flash on a computer screen. After each photo a sedentary word such as "lazy" would appear. After the participants looked at each picture they were asked to say the color of each word.
When a picture of a thin "couch potato" came up, the participants were quick to say the color of the word that appeared. But when a photo of an overweight person lying down appeared, the study participants paused. Researchers concluded that the slow reaction resulted as the stereotyped thoughts automatically set in, with the participant thinking about the person being lazy rather than thinking about the color of the word.
The research is important, the authors say, because stereotypes can influence the way people behave. More awareness of stereotypes can help people counter the effects. For example, if you're aware that you hold a stereotype about a couch potato you're less likely to be negatively influenced by those stereotypes.
Tanya Berry, from the University of Alberta's Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, says these stereotypes about overweight people need to be addressed. Just because a person is overweight, it doesn't mean they don't exercise, and just because a person is thin, it doesn't mean they are fit and healthy.
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