The Effect of Thin Ideal Television Commercials on Body Dissatisfaction and Schema Activation During Early Adolescence -
Duane Hargreaves and Marika Tiggemann

This article is being summarized by Krystal Snell

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Research Question

     The researchers in this study examined the effect of viewing television-broadcast images of “female attractiveness” on the self-image of male and female children (Hargreaves and Tiggemann 367). Self-image was conceptualized as a combination of body dissatisfaction and “appearance-schema activation (367).”

      One-hundred sixty adolescent females and one-hundred ninety-seven adolescent males between the ages of thirteen and fifteen were sampled. The participants were allowed to watch either 20 commercials which portrayed “idealized female thin images (367),” or 20 commercials that did not contain such images. The commercials containing idealized female images showed women who possessed stereotypical, societal ideals of “thinness and attractiveness (369).”

      Body dissatisfaction was assessed at 3 stages: before viewing the commercials, immediately after viewing the commercials, and 15 minutes after viewing the commercials.  State body dissatisfaction was measured using two scales of Weight Dissatisfaction and Overall Appearance Dissatisfaction.  “Appearance-schema” in this study refers to an individual’s beliefs about the overall significance of one’s appearance (368). This concept was assessed using the Appearance Schemas Inventory (ASI). Schema activation was examined using a word-stem completion task. During this task, participants were presented with ambiguous word stems and asked to complete them to form words. Schema activation was operationalized as completing the stem to form an appearance-related word vs. a non-appearance related word.


Body Dissatisfaction
     The researchers found that girls who watched commercials containing idealized images of females expressed greater levels of body dissatisfaction at both the second and third phases of questioning, than did girls who viewed the “nonappearance” commercials. However, no such differences were found among the boys who were sampled, at any phase of questioning. Thus, no significant effect of commercial viewing on body dissatisfaction was found among males in this study.

Schema Activation
     On the word-stem completion task, participants who had viewed the commercials containing idealized female images formed “significantly more appearance-related words” than did participants in the nonappearance condition (371). However, this difference varied by gender, as a greater discrepancy between conditions was found among female participants. Contrary to the researchers’ prediction, no statistically significant interaction effect between commercial condition and schematicity on body dissatisfaction was observed at either the second or third stages of questioning, for either gender.  

      This study demonstrates that not only does viewing idealized images of females contribute to greater preoccupation with appearance and lower immediate evaluations of body satisfaction, but that these effects can persist for at least 15 minutes after the images are viewed. As discussed in the class lecture on the media, this study confirms that the images portrayed in the mass media can have a detrimental and long-lasting effect on the self-esteem of young girls and adolescents.