Whether weight bias occurs in the graduate school admissions process is explored here. Specifically, we examined whether body mass index (BMI) was related to letter of recommendation quality and the number of admissions offers applicants received after attending in-person interviews.
Design and Methods:
Participants were 97 applicants to a psychology graduate program at a large university in the United States. They reported height, weight, and information about their applications to psychology graduate programs. Participants' letters of recommendation were coded for positive and negative statements as well as overall quality.
Higher BMI significantly predicted fewer post-interview offers of admission into psychology graduate programs. Results also suggest this relationship is stronger for female applicants. BMI was not related to overall quality or the number of stereotypically weight-related adjectives in letters of recommendation. Surprisingly, higher BMI was related to more positive adjectives in letters.
The first evidence that individuals interviewing applicants to graduate programs may systematically favor thinner applicants is provided here. A conscious or unconscious bias against applicants with extra body weight is a plausible explanation. Stereotype threat and social identity threat are also discussed as explanations for the relationship between BMI and interview success.