Sex Roles [sers] pp827-sers-464343 April 8, 2003 9:21 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 48, Nos. 9/10, May 2003 (
Body Objectiﬁcation and “Fat Talk”: Effects on Emotion,
Motivation, and Cognitive Performance
Kathrine D. Gapinski,
Kelly D. Brownell,
and Marianne LaFrance
To evaluate the effects of self-objectiﬁcation on mood, motivation, and cognitive performance,
80 women either tried on a swimsuit (high objectiﬁcation) or a sweater (low objectiﬁcation).
In addition, in order to investigate whether “fat talk” exacerbates the negative effects of
self-objectiﬁcation, half of each group overheard a confederate make self-disparaging body
comments or neutral comments. Self-objectiﬁcation, either as an individual difference disposi-
tion (trait) or as a situationally induced state, was associated with increased negative feelings,
decreased intrinsic motivation, lower self-efﬁcacy, and diminished cognitive functioning. The
“fat talk” prime had mixed effects; potential reasons are discussed in detail. Exposure to fat
talk was associated with an increase in negative emotion for women in sweaters, but a decrease
in negative emotion for women in swimsuits. Fat talk was also associated with improved mo-
tivation and cognitive functioning for women low in trait self-objectiﬁcation but diminished
motivation and performance for women high in trait self-objectiﬁcation.
KEY WORDS: self-objectiﬁcation; fat talk; objectiﬁcation theory; body image; cognitive functioning.
From infancy to old age, physical attractive-
ness carries clear advantages. For example, attrac-
tive individuals are seen as more intellectually com-
petent, more appealing as dating partners, and
may even earn more money than their less attrac-
tive counterparts (Frieze, Olson, & Russell, 1991;
Jackson, Hunter, & Hodge, 1995; Walster, Aronson,
Abrahams, & Rottman, 1966). Given the high value
placed upon physical beauty, it is not surprising
that most individuals become vigilant about their
own appearance and the appearance of others. This
seems particularly true of women, whose bodies and
relative attractiveness may be presumed by others
to represent the entire self. Objectiﬁcation theory
(Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) asserts that pervasive
external evaluation leads women to adopt a view of
themselves as objects that are valued for use by others.
In other words, women begin to self-objectify (see
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Psychology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208205, New Haven,
Connecticut 06520; e-mail: email@example.com.
also Bartky, 1990; Berger, 1972; de Beauvoir, 1952;
McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Young, 1990).
Self-objectiﬁcation is argued to have damaging
psychological consequences, such as increased shame
and anxiety, decreased opportunity to achieve peak
motivational states due to interruption of cognitive
ﬂow, and insensitivity to bodily cues (Fredrickson &
Roberts, 1997). Self-objectiﬁcation diverts attention
inward, with women monitoring their own bodies as
a reaction to (or in anticipation of) the sexually objec-
tifying gaze of others. In the present study, we extend
current work on self-objectiﬁcation by examining for
whom this may be particularly true and under what
circumstances it is most likely to be manifest.
Consequences of Self-Objectiﬁcation
Objectiﬁcation theory holds that self-
objectiﬁcation can be conceived both as an enduring
trait and a situationally induced state. Trait self-
objectiﬁcation (TSO) describes differences in the
degree to which people internalize observers’
perspectives on their physical selves in their everyday
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation