Personality and Body Image


What Effect Does Personality Have on the Perception of Body Image in University Students?


The purpose of this research is to identify a correlation between Extraversion and Body image Satisfaction, as well as the effect of current enrollment in a Body Image focused class on Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction. Extraversion is the personality dimension of the Big Five Index that is characterized by sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and excitability. Body Image Satisfaction is operationally defined in this study as cumulative responses on the Body Image Questionnaire with a higher score indicating lower levels of Body Image Satisfaction. Information will be gathered through the administration of the Big Five Index and the Body Image Questionnaire to voluntary participants from a Body Image focused class, and a non-Body Image focused class. The goal of this research is to determine if any relationship exists between Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction and if education has any effect on Body Image Satisfaction.

            Keywords: Body Image, Personality, Extraversion

What Effect Does Personality Have on the Perception of Body Image in University Students?

            While there have been previous empirical studies that have researched the association between personality and body image, can similar results be seen with university students? Previous studies have shown that both Extraversion and Neuroticism have notable effects on body image perceptions. (Allen & Walter, 2016) Because Extraversion is a more dynamic and less obvious comparison tool to compare against body image perceptions, it could potentially be conducive to isolating this particular trait from others in order to determine its specific effect of it. In addition to university students as a whole, what effect does education body image have on body satisfaction scores?


            Big Five Index: “The five-factor model of personality is a hierarchical organization of personality traits in terms of five basic dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience.” (Costa & McCrae, 1992)

            Body Image Satisfaction: Self-concept of body image on a scale from 1-10 with scores above 5 indication high levels of body satisfaction, and scores below 5 indicating low levels of body satisfaction. (Body Image Questionaire, n.d.)

           As a means of expanding prior research, previous research has led to the hypothesis that there will be a strong correlation between scores of Extraversion as per the Big Five Index and high levels of body satisfaction as per the Body Image Questionnaire. There will also be a strong correlation between low levels of Extraversion and low levels of body satisfaction as per the Body Image Questionnaire. The second hypothesis is that enrollment in a Body Image focused class will have a significant effect on Body Image Satisfaction scores.

Literature Review

The origins of what is considered the ideal body in the western world can be traced back to Ancient Greece as well as the Renaissance. (Varanese, 2013) Much in the same way that modern body ideals have their roots in pre-modern societies, the Greek Hellenistic period (323 – 31 BC) and Renaissance era (1300 – 1600 AD) sculpture, particularly the statue of David, has driven what has been considered the ideal male body, which is lean and muscular.

           Historically, men have experienced more stigma than women because men have been expected to be large and meet the ideals of what is considered “hegemonic” masculinity. This was conceptualized in Connell’s gender order theory as a practice that legitimizes powerful men’s dominant position in society and thus justifies the subordination of the common male population, as well as women (Connell, 2005).

           According to Macneill, Best and Davis, personality factors are significantly related to body dissatisfaction in both genders. Several personality traits significantly contributed to the prediction of male (high Neuroticism, low Conscientiousness) and female (high Neuroticism) body dissatisfaction beyond the influence of body mass index (2017). A similar study found that once the effects of participant body mass index and social status had been accounted for, men’s drive for muscularity was significantly predicted by Neuroticism (Benford & Swami, 2014). Females have also been shown through the body image questionnaire to demonstrate a greater differentiation of body-image attitudes than males. (Brown, Cash, & Mikulka, 1990). A longitudinal analysis of change indicated that men and women scoring higher on conscientiousness perceived themselves as thinner, while women scoring higher on neuroticism perceived their body size as larger with no significant effect observed for men. (Hartmann & Siegrist, 2015)

           According to Vanderzee, K., Buunk, B., and Sanderman, R. (1996), the relationship between personality and social comparison processes was not significant. Despite this finding, individuals high in neuroticism displayed a stronger need for comparison and engaged more often in upward comparison, while those high in extraversion were more inclined to compare downwardly than introverts. 

           Sohn (2009) operationally defined the body perceptual gap as the resultant score computed by subtracting the current BMI score from the ideal BMI score (p. 25). This research further indicated that social comparison to television can actually decrease the body perceptual gap among men while increasing the gap among women. (Sohn, 2009)

           When the National Football League (NFL) was created, the use of protective gear began to create unrealistic muscular proportions. At the same time, superhero physiques, notably Superman and Batman, started to mimic the muscular build that is falsely presented by football uniforms (Jirousek, 1996).

           Buchanan (2016) noted in Daily Star how drastic the body ideals have changed with each decade of the 20th century. Prior to the 1930s, it was considered ideal to be overweight in the United States due to the relative inaccessibility of food. (Buchanan, 2016) However, after the 1930s, body ideals have been increasingly influenced by media. (Buchanan, 2016) Actors needed to be slimmer and fitter than previous generations because “the camera adds 10 pounds,” which was a common myth in Hollywood due to cameras having an effect on the perceived body morphology of actors. (Borzekowski, Robinson, & Killen, 2000).

           According to Farquhar and Wasylkiw (2007), the focus of body image research throughout history has been focused on women. However, in the 1997 Psychology Today Body Image Survey, it was found that body dissatisfaction had risen from 15% to 43% since 1972 (Garner, 1997). The fact that G.I. Joe’s arm circumference has risen from a naturally attainable size of 12.2 inches to an unnatural circumference of 26.8 inches has potentially increased levels of body dissatisfaction in men, which has led them to value themselves more for their physical attributes than for their instrumentality, as they have been valued in the past. (Farquhar & Wasylkiw, 2007).

           Franzoi (1995) conceptualized the terms physical beauty and instrumentation as “body-as-object” (which is the view that a body is primarily valued for its physical beauty) and “body-as-process,” (which is the view that a body is primarily valuable for its instrumentality) and the goal of Farquhar and Wasylkiw (2007) was to expand this research by including their own constructs. They gathered and classified advertisements from a convenience sample of magazines in the United States as belonging to one of four time periods (1975–1979, 1984–1989,1992–1996, and 2000–2005). They found that instances of “Level of Activity,” (amount of physical activity portrayed) “Percentage of Nudity” (the amount of bare skin shown), and “Fragmentation (presentation of the male body without the face)” in advertisements had all increased, while “Level of Ad Item Used” (how often the focus of the advertisement is the actual item advertised) had decreased. “Level of Activity,” “Percentage of Nudity,” and “Fragmentation” are associated with body-as-object, whereas “Level of Ad Item Used” is associated with body-as-process.

           Chaudhuri and Buck (1995) developed the Affect, Reason, and Involvement (ARI) Model, which contains specific affect-oriented keywords such as sexy, proud, happy, confident, powerful, desirable, and secure were utilized to create a scale that measured affective and cognitive involvements as well as overall involvements in regards to body satisfaction and how it was affected by social comparison. (1995)

            Hargreaves and Tiggemann (2004) conducted research that found that exposure to idealized male body images in advertisements led to greater body dissatisfaction for girls but not boys. Idealized body images in media lead to greater negative mood and body image comparison for both girls and boys. However, the effect on appearance comparison was stronger for girls. (Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2004).

           There are also boys and men who desire to have smaller bodies and suffer from eating disorders, notably men involved in athletic pursuits that require them to monitor and control their weight such as gymnastics, swimming, dancing, jockeying, wrestling, rowing, running, and bodybuilding. (Eating Disorders in Men: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Treatment, n.d.) In a study conducted in 2018, a sample of adolescents and young adults in the United States, it was found that 5.5% of males manifested elevated ED risk (Limbers, Cohen, & Gray, 2018).

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           It has been found that muscularity in action figures, much like superheroes, has grown increasingly muscular over time. It is now to the point that their size exceeds the size of even the largest bodybuilders (Pope, Olivardia, Gruber, & Borowiecki, 1999).

           According to Derenne and Beresin (2017), due to the ubiquitous nature of media in the modern world, it is important for parents to limit media exposure and promote both a healthy diet and moderate exercise. Body ideals have grown increasingly difficult to achieve (Derenne & Beresin, 2017).

           A study conducted by Swami, Tran, Brooks, Kanaan, Luesse, Nader, and Voracek showed that Neuroticism was positively associated with ideal weight perception discrepancy and negatively associated with body appreciation once the effects of body mass index were taken into account. (2012)

           According to McCabe, Ricciardelli, and Holt, overweight adolescents experience the highest levels of body dissatisfaction, engaged in a large number of strategies for weight loss, and experienced greater social and media pressures for weight loss. (2010) Similarly, it was found that there is a significant relationship between body image disturbance in women and Borderline Personality Disorder, which is associated with high scores in Neurotic traits (Dyer, Borgmann, Feldmann, Kleindienst, Priebe, Bohus, & Vocks, 2013).

           Findings in a study conducted in Australia showed that a higher frequency of use of social media platforms, particularly Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, corresponded to greater body image concerns and eating disorder symptoms (Griffiths, Murray, Krug, & Mclean, 2018). There is also evidence that social networking and the Internet can be associated with body image concerns and disordered eating. (Kim, 2018). Another study showed evidence that media plays a role in the internalization of the “thin ideal”, but does not directly affect rates of body satisfaction. (Fardouly, Diedrichs, Vartanian, & Halliwell, 2015).

           A study conducted by Sabik and Cole showed that specific aspects of body satisfaction weighted by importance are associated with age identity, femininity, social comparison, and depression among older European American and African American women. (2013).

           A study conducted using the Body Image Questionnaire indicated that the perceptual, affective, and cognitive components of body image differed as a function of body weight in a college-aged woman. (Cash & Green, 1986).



            During the Spring 2018 students in Topics in Psychology: Body Image Disturbances Among Females in Contemporary Societies and Conducting Psychological Research were surveyed. Of these participants, 24 provided the necessary responses to both the Big Five Index and the Body Image Satisfaction sections.


          I read instructions and students were given time in class to complete the two measures in both classes (see Consent Form, Appendix A). The first measures included (a) a personality measure, the Big Five (see Appendix B, Big Five), (b) and a Body Image Satisfaction index (see Appendix C, Body Image Satisfaction).


            The purpose of the data collection was explained to students at the start of the class. As each of the 2 questionnaires was administered, students were reminded that their choice to provide responses was voluntary and that we would guarantee their anonymity and guarantee the confidentiality of their responses. Students completed the Big Five Index, a Body Image Satisfaction index, and a consent form that permitted the researchers to use their responses for program evaluation and research purposes.


           This study used a correlational design to determine if there is a significant relationship between Extraversion as per the Big Five Index and Body Image Satisfaction as per the Body Image Satisfaction Index. This study also used a single factor, two-level quasi-experimental design analyzed with a 2 x 2 One-Way ANOVA in order to determine the effect that being currently enrolled in a Body Image focused class has on perceptions of Body Image Satisfaction. The independent variable was Class Enrollment, and the dependent variables were Extraversion as per the Big Five Index and Body Image Satisfaction as per the Body Image Satisfaction Index. I randomly assigned participants to conditions.


              Means and standard deviations for the two experimental conditions were: Extraversion (M = 2.68, SD = .59) and Body Image Satisfaction (M = 46.20, SD = 30.85). A Pearson’s correlation was conducted to determine if there is a significant relationship between Extraversion as per the Big Five Index and Body Image Satisfaction as per the Body Image Satisfaction Index. Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics for Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction, and Table 2 shows the results of that analysis.

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction

 MSD95% CIRangeSkewnessSESkewKurtosisSEKur
Body Image Satisfaction46.2130.8533.1859.246.00118.00.858.472.024.918

Table 2. Pearson Correlation for Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction

  ExtraversionBody Image Satisfaction
ExtraversionPearson Correlation1-.285
 Sig. (2-tailed) .177
Body Image SatisfactionPearson Correlation-.2851
 Sig. (2-tailed).177 

            There was a negative correlation between the two variables, (r = -.285, N = 24, p = .177) A scatterplot summarizes the results (Figure 1) Overall, there was a weak, negative correlation between water Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction.

Figure 1. Scatterplot for Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction

            This study also used a quasi-experimental design analyzed with a 2 x 2 One-Way ANOVA in order to determine the effect that being currently enrolled in a Body Image focused class has on perceptions of both Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction. Extraversion was included due to the convenience of data. Table 3 shows the results of that analysis. This indicates that there was not a significant difference between those currently enrolled in a Body Image focused class and those not currently enrolled.

Table 3. 2 x 2 One-Way ANOVA for Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction

  Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFSig.
ExtraversionBetween Groups1.00011.0003.092.093
 Within Groups7.11922.324  
Body Image SatisfactionBetween Groups610.0421610.042.631.436
 Within Groups21285.91722967.542  


            The goal of this particular study was to determine if results from previous research comparing personality and body image satisfaction were the same in university students while focusing specifically on the trait of Extraversion. The secondary goal was to determine the effect that current enrollment in a Body Image focused class has on Body Image Satisfaction. It was predicted that there would be a significant relationship between Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction. The second prediction was that there would be a significant difference between the mean scores of those currently enrolled in a Body Image focused class, and those not currently enrolled. There was a small negative correlation between Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction. Since lower scores indicate greater body satisfaction on this index, this indicates that higher Extraversion scores are associated with positive Body Image Satisfaction. The second prediction was not true, as there was not a significant difference in the mean scores of those currently enrolled in a Body Image focused class, and those not currently enrolled in a Body Image focused class.

Strengths & Limitations

            The obvious first limitation of this study is the fact that the sample size was very small and likely not capable of being generalized to a larger population of university students. The second issue is the fact that the study was administered specifically to students majoring in Psychological Studies, presenting a potential confound. It would have been better to compare to the general population of the university and potentially other universities.

Future Directions

            The next step in this line of research is to do a more robust study that pools from a larger sample size of students from several different backgrounds. What his study does show is that there does appear to be a relationship between Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction, therefore it is justifiable to conduct future studies in this direction. It would also be good to use and more refined measure of Extraversion in order to determine which specific components of Extraversion relate to Body Image Satisfaction.


            This study was intended primarily as a pilot study; it is the starting point for future research into the connections between Extraversion and Body Image Satisfaction. While it is daunting to find that education did not have an effect on Body Image Satisfaction, this still presents the possibility that Extraversion could be a protective factor. By determining which dimensions of Extraversion are related to the increase in Body Image Satisfaction and which dimensions of Body Image Satisfaction have an effect on Extraversion.


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Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

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