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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