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Experimental manipulation of muscularity preferences through visual diet and associative learning

Jacques, K.A. and Evans, E.H. and Boothroyd, L.G. (2021) 'Experimental manipulation of muscularity preferences through visual diet and associative learning.', PLoS One, 16 (8). e0255403.


Body preferences are somewhat flexible and this variability may be the result of one’s visual diet (whereby mere exposure to certain bodies shifts preferences), associative learning mechanisms (whereby cues to health and status within the population are internalised and affect body preferences), or a mixture of both visual diet and associative learning effects. We tested how these factors may drive changes in preferences for muscularity in male bodies across a male and female sample. Three studies were conducted where participants viewed manipulation images of high and/or low muscle mass males which were either aspirational (high status clothing and posture) and/or neutral (no obvious cues to status). Preferences for muscularity were recorded before and after exposure to such manipulation images to assess whether body preferences had changed following manipulation. We found evidence for both the visual diet and associative learning hypotheses. Exposure to non-muscular male bodies decreased preferences for muscular bodies irrespective of image valence. Exposure to aspirational non-muscular male bodies alongside neutral muscular male bodies also led to a decrease in muscularity preferences. Further, when manipulation conditions are less obviously skewed towards a particular body type, preferences still shifted in the direction of the most prevalent body type, suggesting that demand characteristics are unlikely to have confounded results of previous adaptation experiments with more obvious manipulations.

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Publisher statement:© 2021 Jacques et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited
Date accepted:15 July 2021
Date deposited:26 November 2021
Date of first online publication:11 August 2021
Date first made open access:26 November 2021

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