Reducing Obesity Stigma: The Effectiveness of Cognitive Dissonance and Social Consensus Interventions




Obese individuals experience pervasive stigmatization. Interventions attempting to reduce obesity stigma by targeting its origins have yielded mixed results. This randomized, controlled study examined the effectiveness of two interventions to reduce obesity stigma: cognitive dissonance and social consensus. Participants were college undergraduate students (N = 64, 78% women, mean age = 21.2 years, mean BMI = 23.1 kg/m2) of diverse ethnicities. Obesity stigma (assessed with the Antifat Attitudes Test (AFAT)) was assessed at baseline (Visit 1) and 1 week later, immediately following the intervention (Visit 2). Participants were randomly assigned to one of three intervention groups where they received standardized written feedback on their obesity stigma levels. Cognitive dissonance participants (N = 21) were told that their AFAT scores were discrepant from their values (high core values of kindness and equality and high stigma), social consensus participants (N = 22) were told their scores were discrepant from their peers' scores (stigma much higher than their peers), and control participants (N = 21) were told their scores were consistent with both their peers' scores and their own values. Following the intervention, omnibus analyses revealed significant group differences on the AFAT Physical/Romantic Unattractiveness subscale (PRU; F (2, 59) = 4.43, P < 0.05). Planned contrasts revealed that cognitive dissonance group means were significantly lower than control means for AFAT total, AFAT PRU subscale, and AFAT social/character disparagement subscale (all P < 0.05). No significant differences were found between social consensus and controls. Results from this study suggest that cognitive dissonance interventions may be a successful way to reduce obesity stigma, particularly by changing attitudes about the appearance and attractiveness of obese individuals.