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Keywords:

  • implicit association test;
  • nursing students;
  • obesity;
  • stigma;
  • weight bias

Aim and objectives.  To determine the implicit or unconscious attitudes of Nursing and Psychology majors towards overweight individuals in medical and non-medical contexts.

Background.  Obesity is a leading health concern today, which impacts both physical and psychological health. Overweight individuals confront social biases in many aspects of their lives including health care. Examining the views of Nursing and Psychology students may reveal implicit attitudes towards overweight individuals that may lead to prejudiced behaviours.

Design.  A mixed design experiment with one between-subjects variable (student major: Nursing or Psychology) and one within-subjects variable (condition: congruent or incongruent) was used to assess implicit attitudes in two convenience samples of Nursing and Psychology students.

Methods.  A computerised implicit association test was used to determine implicit attitudes towards overweight individuals in medical and non-medical contexts. A total of 90 students from Nursing (n = 45) and Psychology (n = 45) were recruited to complete an implicit association test. Reaction times in milliseconds between the congruent trials (stereotype consistent) and incongruent trials (stereotype inconsistent) were compared with determine adherence to social stereotypes or weight bias.

Results.  A statistically significant implicit bias towards overweight individuals was detected in both subject groups and in both target settings (medical vs. non-medical). Stronger weight bias was found when the stimulus targets were female than male.

Conclusions.  Findings from this study expand understanding of the implicit attitudes and social biases of Nursing and Psychology students. The views held by these future healthcare professionals may negatively impact patient care.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Providing education and support to overweight individuals is central to Nursing practice in a society struggling to manage obesity. Negative stereotypes or beliefs about these individuals may result in poor patient care. Therefore, nurses and other healthcare professionals must be aware of personal biases and work to develop methods to address weight-related issues in a therapeutic manner.