The effects of health frame and target relevance in appearance social comparisons

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John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Social comparison powerfully influences on appearance self‐evaluations, but previous research has not examined the combined impact of target frame and relevance on appearance comparison outcomes. The present study examined the effect of target relevance and health frame in body‐ideal images on self‐evaluations in a mixed‐gender university‐based sample from the United States (N = 176; 58% female). Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions in which they viewed a body‐ideal image of a same‐sex target that varied in target relevance (peer or model) and health frame (extreme behaviors described as being healthy or unhealthy). We did not find evidence that comparisons with models or peers are different in their effects. And, consistent with hypotheses, the health frame of a comparison target’s eating and exercise behaviors influenced how participants perceived themselves and their health. Participants were more likely to take health advice from the target described as healthy, and felt better about their own health when comparing to healthy targets. We also found gender differences such that men were more satisfied with their physical health but women were more satisfied with their appearance. Overall, this research supports the importance of addressing peer comparisons and health literacy in body image interventions, which has long‐term implications for the prevention of eating and exercise pathology.