Describe (and evaluate) Psychological Explanations of Anorexia

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  • Describe (and evaluate)  Psychological Explanations of Anorexia
    • Social Learning Theory - Bandura
      • According to this theory, anorexia is 'learnt' from the environment, particularly the media. Western media such as TV, films and magazines promote a 'thin' female beauty ideal because they are full of images of thin, attractive women.
        • These 'thin' role models are not only glamorous and high status but also rewarded and 'reinforced' for being thin.
          • As a result, women feel that they have to be thin to be attractive and successful, so they diet. This is called vicarious reinforcement. Moreover, once women start losing weight they receive positive reinforcement as they are praised and complimented. This leads to a continuation of dieting and sometimes anorexia.
            • Women who have low self-esteem may be particularly influenced by images they see in the media; negative experiences such as being teased about weight can also play a part.
      • Problems
        • -All young women growing up in Western cultures are exposed to the 'thin' beauty ideal through the media but very few become anorexic; other factors must play a part like low self-esteem or having a perfectionist personality
        • -There is evidence anorexia existed a long time before the development of strong visual media, St. Catherine of Sienna had anorexic symptoms but lived in the 14th century; suggests that perhaps is has biological, not cultural causes
        • -10% of anorexics are males and it is unclear how the media influences males to diet and become thin, as pressure from the media on males is to be muscular
      • Evidence
        • +Research in Fiji found that after 38 months of having been introduced to Western TV, women become more concerned about body shape and there was an increase in problems like vomiting to control weight; TV can lead to distorted behaviour
        • +Research has found that populations in developing countries, like Curacao, there are higher rates of anorexia as they influenced by Western culture; expected if the media plays an important role
        • +Groesz carried out a meta analysis of 25 studies and found that women's body dissatisfaction increased after they saw media images of thin women; again suggesting that images in the media could lead to dieting and anorexia.
        • +90% of anorexics are female
    • Cognitive Approach
      • Research shows that anorexics have a number of cognitive errors such as magnification. This is when people exaggerate the importance of events, such as gaining a pound, which may push them over the edge.
        • This is the idea that anorexia nervosa is partly due to faulty thinking about food and body shape.
      • +Lovell found that people who had recovered from anorexia nervosa two years earlier still had distorted body images and odd views about food; suggests that cognition plays a part in anorexia
        • Problem: However, a difficulty with cognitive explanations is it's unclear whether cognitions causes the problem or results from it


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