Predictors of eating disorders in college-aged women : the role of competition and relational aggression
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The serious consequences and high prevalence rates of eating disorders among women have been well documented (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; Birmingham, Su, Hlynasky, Goldner, & Gao, 2005; Crow, Praus, & Thuras, 1999; Steinhausen, 2009). Factors linked to the development of an eating disorder include competitiveness and group membership (Basow, Foran ,& Bookwala, 2007; Striegel-Moore, Silberstein, Grunberg, & Rodin, 1990). The purpose of this study was to further examine risk factors associated with eating disorder symptomatology by examining the role of sorority membership, different forms of competition, and relational aggression. Sorority membership was hypothesized to impact a participant’s eating disorder symptomatology, competitiveness, and relational aggression. Additionally, this study looked at three different forms of competition (Hypercompetition, Female Competition for mates, and Female Competition for status) and sought to understand which form of competitiveness best predicts eating disorder symptomatology. Female Competition for mates was hypothesized to best predict disordered eating. Lastly, relational aggression was expected to moderate the relationship between competition among women and eating disorder behaviors. An increase in relational aggression was hypothesized to strengthen the relationship between competition among women and eating disorder symptomatology. The reasoning for this relationship was based on an evolutionary framework that proposes aggression is needed to drive competition (Shuster, 1983). Participants included 407 undergraduate women, with a split of 211 sorority members and 196 non-sorority women. Measures included four subscales from the Eating Disorder Inventory (Garner et al., 1983), the Hypercompetitive Attitudes Scale (Ryckman et al., 1996), the Female Competition for mates scale, the Female Competition for status scale (Faer et al., 2005), and the Indirect Aggression Scale (Forrest et al., 2005). Separate regression analyses were conducted to answer each research question. Participants also answered qualitative questions after completing the surveys. Analyses revealed sorority membership significantly predicted a participant’s Female Competition for status. Female Competition for mates was found to best predict both body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness such that the higher a participant’s competition for mates score, the lower these eating disorder symptoms. No moderating effects of relational aggression were found in the model. Additionally, social desirability was included in the regressions as a means of controlling for a participant’s tendency to self-report desirably. An important surprise finding was that social desirability was a significant predictor of eating disorder symptomatology, competition, and relational aggression. Exploratory qualitative analyses suggested women’s acceptance of their bodies, while their conversations with friends included self-deprecating ways of discussing their appearance. Findings also suggest sorority membership predicts higher female competition for mates and status. Results reveal a relationship between competition and disordered eating which suggests important considerations for clinicians to explore with clients who may experience eating disorder symptomatology.