Self-Discrepancies Linked to Body Image Dissatisfaction in College Women

Women have higher rates of body image dissatisfaction when compared to men. These negative assessments can lead to maladaptive mental states and behaviors, including eating problems. According to the self-discrepancy theory (SDT), people possess three specific self-appraisals: one each for their actual person, the person they strive to be (ideal), and the person they believe they are supposed to be (ought). When their actual person does not match up to their ought or ideal person, discrepancies develop which can lead to negative affect. Research into SDT has supported this theory, however, little research has looked at what negative mood states result from actual:ideal discrepancies (A:I) and actual:ought (A:O) discrepancies respectively.

To address this gap in literature and further explore this unique relationship of self-perspective, Kristen E. Heron of Penn State University recently conducted a study in which 63 college women reported their levels of self-discrepancy related to A:I and A:O several times a day over the course of one week. Heron used this information to evaluate how their self-discrepancies influenced their moods, and found that A:I discrepancies were predictive of depressed mood states while A:O discrepancies were more suggestive of anxious mood states. These results were similar to those obtained in previous research conducted in a clinical setting.

Heron believes that by gathering data from women as they went about their everyday lives, rather than using only clinical data, the results provide a more telling and realistic analysis of how self-discrepancy affects moods related to body image. Although this study does support SDT, Heron points out that her research did not take into consideration the numerous other factors that could increase these discrepancies, such as social pressure, cultural norms, and media influence. Also, factors that directly affect women’s moods, such as physical exercise, diet, and medication, as well as other psychological conditions, were not researched in this study. Heron added, “Future research identifying factors that are associated with fluctuations in body dissatisfaction are needed in order to develop a more complete understanding of how these processes occur in everyday life.”

Heron, Kristen E., and Joshua M. Smyth. Body image discrepancy and negative affect in women’s everyday lives: An ecological momentary assessment evaluation of self-discrepancy theory. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 32.3 (2013): 276-95. Print.

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  • catherine D

    catherine D

    March 12th, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    There are tons of reasons why most of us feel the way about ourselves that we do, and most of it all begins with what our parents have taught us about the eway that they think about us. As we get older it switches to our peer groups at school and then this fascination with trying to look like and be more like the covers of those fashion magazines. We become so critical of ourselves from a very young age, and even when we get old enough to know that this is wrong, that this is not the important thing in life it is still there eating away at us and forcing us to feel bad about the body we actually have. I don’t think that you will find too many women at all who have not struggled with this at some point in their lives.

  • Macy


    March 14th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    I think that there are plenty of women who have this kind of divide between what they see in themselves and what they really are. For example, even a size 2 teen tiny girl can go into a dressing room and come out hating herself because of how she perceives that she looks in that swimsuit. Even when there is not an ounce of extra fat on her body! On the flip side you know that there are those bigger girls who put on those tight clothes and have more hanging out than in and they think that they look good. Everything is all a matter of perception, and most of it has to do with your self esteem and how confident you are in who you are. If you know that nyou look good and have very high body image the chance is pretty good that you know who you are, you are comfortable with your strengths and you are not afraid to ahow it.

  • toby


    March 14th, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    test me and the only discrepancy you’d see is the actual:ideal discrepancy. others’ opinions hardly have an effect on me. and most of those with actual:ought discrepancy seem to suffer from being influenced too much by others opinion.

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