College students' perceptions of individuals with anorexia and bulimia nervosa


  • Supported by MH-068520 from the National Institutes of Health Grants.



Eating disorders (EDs) are highly stigmatized conditions. This study explored factors hypothesized to influence this stigmatization including ethnicity, gender, ED subtype, and proposed etiology.


Undergraduates (N = 235) read scenarios depicting fictional characters varying on ethnicity, gender ED subtype, and etiology. Participants reported perceptions of each character, and completed the EAT-26 and the Level-of-Contact scale.


Characters with BN were viewed as more responsible for their ED and more self-destructive than those with AN, who were viewed as more self-controlled. Characters with a sociocultural etiology were rated as most likely to recover. Characters with a biological etiology were viewed as more likeable than characters with an ambiguous etiology. Characters in the ambiguous group were viewed as more self-destructive, more responsible for their ED, and less self-controlled. Differences in participants' perceptions of the characters also emerged when examining ethnicity and gender. Finally, participants' own ED symptoms and their level of contact with EDs were associated with viewing characters as more similar and self-controlled.


Findings highlight the need for increased education about ED etiology and course. © 2010 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2011; 44:369–375)