Educational Interventions To Mitigate Overweight And Obesity Stigma: The Moderating Role Of Empathy
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Exploring methods to mitigate biases is a promising and growing field as the harmful consequences and prevalence of weight stigma are already well documented. However, research has shed some light that education and knowledge alone may not be strong enough to reduce biases (Teachman et al., 2003). Therefore, incorporating and expanding empathy research into creating more effective interventions have been considered. Results from empathy induced interventions, however, have not been conclusive and still require further research. The study explores the role of empathy in moderating the relationship between personalized educational interventions and obtaining changes in both explicit and implicit biases. It is hypothesized that the vignette intervention will result in a greater immediate change in both implicit and explicit biases as compared to the factual educational intervention. For both interventions, explicit biases are hypothesized in seeing a greater change and thus, a greater modifiability. Furthermore, those with higher trait empathy levels are hypothesized to demonstrate a greater change in reducing negative implicit and explicit biases. The present study examined how bias towards obesity changed after reading a brief factual handout or a personal story in a sample of 97 undergraduate students. Changes in biases were observed through beliefs and attitudes, both consciously reported and unconsciously tested. Additionally, we explored natural empathetic tendencies as potential moderators of the interventions’ effectiveness. The vignette option did not increase empathy towards obese individuals as intended. The hypothesis that those in the vignette condition would report significant reductions in both negative attitudes and beliefs was not supported. There are, however, weak marginal trend of the vignette condition reporting reduction in the expression of negative beliefs. The hypothesis that unconscious biases were not expected to change as much as explicit biases was supported. Unconscious biases, consistent with literature, were harder to modify. The hypothesis that those with higher trait empathy levels would express lower negative conscious and unconscious attitudes and beliefs after reading the intervention passage was not supported. The results of this study can be used to aid and tailor the style and approach of educational passages in addressing stigmatizing characteristics in ways that not only reduce the reinforcement of negative biases but also actually mitigate stigma.