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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Automatic evaluation of body-related words among young women: an experimental study

Kaaren J Watts1* and Jacquelyn Cranney2

Author Affiliations

1 Psychosocial Research Group, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, NSW, 2031, Australia

2 School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW, 2052, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:308  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-308

Published: 4 June 2010



Previous research has demonstrated that exposure to images depicting the thin female ideal has negative effects on some females' levels of body dissatisfaction. Much of this research, however, has utilised relatively long stimulus exposure times; thereby focusing on effortful and conscious processing of body-related stimuli. Relatively little is known about the nature of females' affective responses to the textual components of body-related stimuli, especially when these stimuli are only briefly encountered. The primary aim of the current research was to determine whether young women automatically evaluate body-related words and whether these responses are associated with body image concerns, including self-reported levels of appearance schematicity, thin internalisation, body dissatisfaction, and dietary restraint.


An affective priming task was used to investigate whether females automatically evaluate body-related words, and whether this is associated with self-reported body image concerns. In a within-participants experimental design, the valence congruence of the prime and target pairs was manipulated. Participants selected body words as primes in Experiment 1 (N = 27), while normatively selected body words were primes in Experiment 2 (N = 50). Each prime was presented briefly, followed by a target word which participants judged as "good" or "bad". The dependent variable was response latency to the target.


Automatic evaluation was evident: responding to congruent pairs was faster than responding to incongruent pairs. Body image concerns were unrelated to automaticity.


The findings suggest that brief encounters with body words are likely to prompt automatic evaluation in all young women, and that this process proceeds unintentionally and efficiently, without conscious guidance.