Archive for Sunday, July 4, 1999

S RESEARCH CARRIES A LOT OF WEIGHT

July 4, 1999

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A psychology professor studies attitudes toward the overweight and the basic beliefs behind them.

If you're fat, it's your fault.

That's what most Americans think, Chris Crandall, a Kansas University professor of psychology, said. America doesn't like fat.

Crandall says he researches attitudes toward fat and fat people, not the overweight.

"Over what weight?" he asked. "Your body will tell you where it wants to be. It may not be where society wants you to be."

He has found that the United States, and other individualistic countries like Australia, don't like fat people. The blame for their weight is put squarely on their own shoulders.

"The question is where does the prejudice come from," he said. adding that the behavior is not learned, like other prejudices.

"Your parents don't tell you 'Stay away from that fat person,'" he said.

The aversion comes from beliefs. Culture tells us that fat is bad, and that people have control over their weight. Therefore, he said, if someone is fat, it is their own fault. They have failed in some way. And fat people agree.

"Almost any group likes itself better than other groups like it," Crandall said. "Fat people are no different than lean people and normal people in their feelings about fat people."

The prejudice stems from beliefs about the world, he said.

"Your whole life is built on these beliefs," Crandall said. "These beliefs are more important than feeling good about ourselves."

The basic beliefs are that the world is fair and the idea that hard work and sacrifice will get you ahead.

"If you put your nose to the grindstone, you'll get ahead," he said. These fundamental, unquestioned beliefs lead to the notion that fat is a function of will. If the person were stronger willed, they could lose weight.

"Whose fault is it?" he said. "That's the first question Americans ask."

These beliefs about the world are not questioned, he said. Right now, Crandall is applying the ideas about beliefs rationalizing prejudices in other areas.

"The same kind of logic will apply to the glass ceiling," he said, adding that it also is applicable to unemployment or drug abuse.

"If it is bad, and you can control it, it leads to prejudice," he said.

Crandall said that prejudice is a rational process, though not necessarily good. The same mental processes that keeps you from hiring a thief to work as a cashier are used to explain dislike of a certain group.

"I'm not saying that it's good or acceptable, but it has a certain logic," he said.

However, other beliefs, like altruism, hold prejudice in check.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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