Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Pila, Eva


Higher-weight individuals face pervasive weight-related stigma and discrimination in their daily lives. There is conceptual and empirical evidence to suggest that weight stigma contributes to worse physical and psychological health outcomes, mediated by the deleterious psychobiological responses to psychosocial stress. Activating self-soothing emotional states (such as self-compassion) may protect against this psychobiological cascade, conferring resilience to negative social evaluation (such as weight stigma). This proof-of-concept pilot study examined the feasibility and acceptability of an acute experimental protocol testing psychobiological responses to a weight-based social evaluative induction and self-compassion intervention. A secondary objective was to examine the efficacy of the acute self-compassion intervention to dampen the psychobiological stress response. Self-identifying cis-gender women (N = 37, Mage = 21.93) who also identified as “average weight”, or “higher weight” were randomized into an intervention or control condition and completed measures of psychobiological stress. Overall, the study demonstrated feasibility and acceptability evidence, however, it was not feasible to recruit the target sample size. Findings revealed that weight stigma induction elicited an increase in self-conscious emotions. While the intervention successfully induced self-compassion among participants in the intervention group, the efficacy of self-compassion to attenuate the psychobiological stress response was limited. The results from this study provide preliminary evidence of the feasibility and acceptability of a weight stigma induction and self-compassion intervention protocol but demonstrate limited efficacy, likely due to sample size restraints. Due to the important impact of weight stigma on health, future research is needed to elucidate the conditions in which weight-based social evaluation activates the psychobiological systems.

Summary for Lay Audience

Weight stigma stems from weight biases, which are stereotypes and negative attitudes towards individuals with higher-weight. These stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes lead to weight stigmatization, social exclusion, and marginalization of higher-weight individuals. Research shows that higher-weight individuals, particularly women, often face weight-based stigma and discrimination, consequently leading to mental and physical health impairments. Consequently, higher-weight individuals are likely to undergo a psychobiological stress response to weight-stigmatizing events. Continual activation of this stress response is associated with chronic diseases (e.g., hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, etc.), also commonly referred to as obesity diseases. Thus, weight stigmatization may be one factor that contributes to obesity-related diseases, which are often associated with weight-related issues. It is critical to identify intervention strategies to reduce the psychobiological stress effects induced by weight stigma. There is evidence to suggest that self-compassion may be effective, and therefore, the primary objective of this study is to examine whether a self-compassion intervention can be an effective method to buffer the psychobiological stress from the weight stigma induction. Also, to test the effectiveness of a weight stigma induction at eliciting psychobiological stress. This acute laboratory-based study is the first to our knowledge to examine psychobiological responses to a weight-based social-evaluative induction, thus, the feasibility of the experimental protocol and acceptability to participants will be established. N = 37 cis-gender women who identified as “average” or “higher weight” were randomized into the intervention (self-compassion) versus control (quiet rest) group. Results revealed that weight stigma induction was effective at inducing increased self-conscious emotions. The acute self-compassion intervention successfully induced self-compassion within participants in the intervention group compared to the control group, however, the efficacy to buffer psychobiological stress was limited as the stress induction did not elicit a stress response. The study was acceptable to participants, and mostly feasible apart from the difficulty with recruitment due to limited allocated resources. Future research should replicate the study with improved efforts to explicate the relationship between weight stigma and psychobiological stress, and intervention strategies, such as self-compassion to buffer the stress response.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.