Body Shape Impressions

The Influence of Body Shape on Impressions of Sexual Traits - Flora Oswald, Katheryn Morrison, Kailie Brown, & Cory L. Pedersen


It is well established in the psychological literature that people make inferences about the personalities of others based on their facial appearance (e.g., Oosterhof & Todorov, 2008; Walker & Vetter, 2009). In most real-life situations, faces are paired with bodies, salient features of individuals which can be perceived from a distance (Yovel & O’Toole, 2016). Recent research has examined social inferences based on body shape and has primarily focused on the growing epidemic of obesity (Hu, Parde, Hill, Mahmood, & O’Toole, 2018). Findings from this paradigm indicate that obese people tend to be judged more negatively than individuals with healthier body types, with common judgments about obese people labeling them lazy and incompetent (Carr & Friedman, 2005).  Recently, Hu and colleagues found that people infer a wide range of diverse personality traits based on body shape, and that these inferences are systematic, reliable, and grounded firmly in the physical features of their target bodies. Further, waist to hip ratio, BMI, and muscularity have each been implicated as important indicators of mate value, thus suggesting that body shape is associated with sexual judgments. Given these relationships, it seems likely that people would also make judgments about the sexual traits of individuals based on their body shapes.


The purpose of the current investigation was to explore whether individuals make different inferences about the sexual traits and behaviours of targets based on their body shape. Participants were presented with3-dimensional stimulus bodies of varying body shapes generated using the skinned multiperson linear (SMPL) model. Each body stimulus was paired with a 30-item sexual trait list; participants were asked to evaluate the degree to which each of the 30 words applied to each body.


Findings suggest that larger (overweight) bodies are rated more negatively on a variety of sexual traits; for example, deemed to be more sexually desperate and more sexually repressed. Further, male bodies are judged to be more sexually aggressive and sexually dominant than female bodies. Results are consistent with and extend previous literature indicating that trait judgments based on body shape vary in systematic ways. Findings are discussed in reference to sexual stereotyping and implications of these attributions for outcomes such as victim-blaming. This study provides the first comprehensive look at the range and reliability of sexual inferences that people make from body shape.

Poster presentation delivered at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Denver, CO, 2019.