Psychological Explanations of AN

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  • Created by: Reece
  • Created on: 07-02-14 21:27

Social Learning Theory


Young people observe and imitate the behaviours of those they admire - a process called modelling.

For example a young girl may observe her role model being rewarded for being thin.

(Western society - being thin =  being successful, fit and healthy.)

SLT sees the media as a major source of influence for the body image attitudes maintained by western adolescents.

Over the last 50 years images of women in the media have become taller and thinner.

This is shown by images of women in magazines etc and in the body shapes of winners of the Miss World contest.

Individuals therefore may try and copy models through dieting. Any weight they do lose leads to positive reinforcement in the form of compliments and attention from friends and family.

Therefore AN is a learned behaviour through observation which is maintained by +ve reinforcement.

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Psychological Explanations of AN


Supporting research- evidence for the role of the media comes from Becker.

He studied attitudes to food in Fijian adolescent girls before and after TV was introduced.

He found the girls expressed a desire to lose weight to look more like western TV characters.

After 5 years there was a significant number of girls with AN- despite the disorder being absent prior to the introduction of TV.

Meta analysis (Groesz) further supports this.

He found exposure to images of thin women increased body disastisfaction in females

This offers reliable evidence for the SLT explanation of AN 

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Psychological Explanations of AN


However everyone in western society is exposed to these idealised images but only a small minority develop eating disorders.

This undermines the SLT that suggests the media is directly responsible for disordered eating.

This suggests that their must be other factors that contribute towards the development of AN.

Such vulnerability factors include low self esteem, high social anxiety and perfectionism.

For example an individual with low self esteem is more likely to compare themselves to the idealised images portrayed in the media and is therefore more likely to develop AN. 

Therefore SLT cannot explain AN alone.

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Psychological Explanations of AN

Alternative approach (IDA)

The SLT places emphasis on nurture and the environment.

However a weakness of this theory is that there are compelling alternative approaches.

The genetic theory suggests genes cause AN.

For instance Holland found a 55% concordance rate for MZ twins compared to 7% in DZ twins when testing for AN.

This suggests a strong genetic link.

Therefore the genetic explanation provides an alternative approach.

However for a disorder as complex as AN an eclectic approach incorporating aspects of social, psychological and biological explantions is needed to gain a full understanding of the disorder.

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