Contributions of research media psychology to discussions of body image in society.
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Winchester
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Clinical Sciences, Public Health and Health Services
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
David Giles's research on the influence of media on human behaviour has
generated impact across a number of domains in the world beyond academia.
One area where impact is particularly evident is in his research on body
image and eating disorders. The findings reported in Giles and Close
(2008) were reported in high-profile media sources including the Health
section of the BBC website, the Sunday Times, and the Daily
Mail; and material from these sources was reproduced in other
locations, most notably in the Wikipedia entry for the UK version
of Men's Health magazine.
For more than a decade, Giles has explored the ways in which media
influence human behaviour (see Giles, 2010 for an overview), and a
particular strand of this research has focused on the cumulative effects
of repeated media exposure to idealised or unrealistic body shapes on
young people in particular. While there is much literature on how limited
exposure to such imagery can have a short-term influence under laboratory
conditions, there is a dearth of evidence linking eating and exercise
behaviours to longer-term media use. There is also much more research on
the internalisation of media ideals by females than by males.
Giles and Close (2008) tested the hypothesis that high levels of exposure
to idealised masculine bodies, typically displaying an excessively
developed musculature, would lead to increased `drive for muscularity'—a
cognitive and behavioural measure that captures both thinking about, and
actually performing, ways of building a more muscular physique. The Drive
for Muscularity Scale (McCreary & Sasse, 2000), in which respondents
agree on a 6-point scale with various statements about body-building and
muscularity, is an established measure of the phenomenon. Typical
statements assessing cognitions include `Other people think I work out
with weights too often'; a typical statement assessing behaviour is
`I use protein or energy supplements'.
The authors asked 161 young men to complete a measure of magazine reading
habits in which they were asked to indicate how frequently they read a
selection of titles, including a list of men's `lifestyle magazines' such
as Men's Health, but also titles such as FHM and Esquire,
which often feature muscular male imagery. They also asked their
respondents to complete the Drive for Muscularity scale as well as the
Sociocultural Attitudes Towards Appearance scale (Heinberg et al., 1995).
The latter is a measure of the extent to which people internalise (and
accept) the prevailing orthodoxy in the media for prizing physical
attractiveness above other personal qualities (typical item: `Attractiveness
is very important if you want to get ahead in our culture').
The results indicated that the Sociocultural Attitudes measure acted as a
`mediator' between the other two measures. In other words, there was a
significant relationship between the frequency of reading men's lifestyle
magazines and drive for muscularity — but this was mediated (explained) by
the degree to which they internalised the values of the media regarding
appearance and the importance of being attractive. So, those who read a
substantial number of these magazines and strongly believe in the
importance of attractiveness are more likely to take measures to increase
their musculature (and to think about doing so).
A further finding of the study was that this effect was significantly
greater for non-dating respondents than those in permanent relationships.
In other words, while the effect was true of all respondents, it was more
pronounced for those without a current partner: people who might be more
susceptible to `quick fix' methods for enhancing their physical
References to the research
Giles, D.C. (2010). Psychology of the Media. Basingstoke:
Giles, D.C., & Close, J. (2008). Exposure to `lad magazines' and
drive for muscularity in dating and non-dating young men. Personality
and Individual Differences, 44, 1610-1616.
Details of the impact
During the period following the publication of Giles and Close (2008),
several UK national newspapers and other media sources carried stories
citing the paper's findings—quoting quite extensively from either the
paper itself, various press releases or direct from the interview
material. BBC Radio Solent broadcast a live interview in which Giles
discussed the research.
The first source to carry the story was the Sunday Times
(16/3/08), which published a short feature entitled `Lads' mags inflict
preening curse' following an interview with the author. On 26/3/08, the Daily
Mail carried a similar length article, which also contained several
quotes from Giles. Two days later, the Health section of the BBC news
website ran a feature which also quoted Giles repeatedly, for example:
"While magazines aimed at men often include pictures of scantily-clad
women, Dr David Giles said images of male bodies may be more dangerous...
Dr Giles, from the University of Winchester, said that some of the content
may drive men to try to become more muscular, even if that could harm
their health." These are sources with broad reach: The BBC website has 40
million unique users a week, and the Mail and Sunday Times
currently have reported circulation figures of 1,594,421 and 885,612
Following the initial coverage of UK news media, a number of other media
sources also carried features reporting the findings of the paper. These
included health blogs and websites, such as World Health Net (a
non-profit general health site run by the American Academy of Anti-Aging
Medicine), Go Health Live (the website of the UK-based men's
health charity), One India (an English-language based Indian news
site) and My Body Beautiful (a health site promoting positive body
image). The story was also carried on two prominent psychology blogs — Shrink
Rap, run by Tri City (a Canadian psychology service), and the
British Psychological Society's Research Digest, a popular service which
is currently linked to 458 Google+ circles. In addition to press coverage,
the research findings have since been cited in a report (p. 86) by COMAB,
the Coalition on Men and Boys (UK), a body of charities, services and
researchers that 'advises Government and other policymaking and service
delivery agencies' on 'issues of concern to men and boys'
the most notable and enduring impact of the research is inclusion in the
Wikipedia entry for the UK version of Men's Health magazine (which
Giles had no involvement in writing). Although Men's Health was
only one of several titles featured in the study, the page carries the
following quote: "The UK version [of the magazine] received strong
criticism from psychologist Dr David Giles from the University of
Winchester because of its promotion of a muscular physique as a sign of
health", followed by a quote from the BBC Health article. The entry's
author had clearly made the association between the research and the fact
that most of the media sources reporting the findings had used Men's
Health (and images of the magazine) as a typical example of the type
of publication referred to in the paper.
Sources to corroborate the impact