Summary: This paper used three different approaches to provide convincing evidence that television is changing preferences. A cross-sectional study of 300 individuals in 7 villages showed that watching TV predicted a preference for thinner and curvier women. This was also true when looking at within-individual change in preferences from year to year amongst a small community who were tested multiple times. Finally, an experimental study showed that viewing high or low weight models on a laptop actively changed villagers’ preferences, as is also seen in the laboratory in the UK.
This research project brought together Psychologists and Anthropologists to study the impacts of television on beauty ideals in rural Nicaragua.
Project Leader: Prof Lynda Boothroyd, Durham University
Co-Investigator: Prof Martin Tovee, University of Lincoln
Steering committee: Prof Robert Barton, Dr Mike Burt, Dr Liz Evans, Dr Mark Jamieson
Research associate: Dr Jean-Luc Jucker
Doctoral researcher: Dr Tracey Thornborrow
Funding: This research is funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (RPG-2013-113).
Pilot data were collected with funding from the Centre for Coevolution of Biology and Culture
JLJ was a visiting researcher at Universidad de las Regiones Autonomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaraguense.
All images copyright Jean-Luc Jucker
The Pearl Lagoon Basin is an area of Nicaragua which during our research was in the process of receiving mains electricity for the first time. Those living in the remote villages of the Lagoon had no access to the internet at the time, nor magazines, and could only access visual media through television. As such, this represented a remarkable research opportunity for assessing the impact of visual media on perceptions of beauty, particularly the extent to which residents of the region adopt a preference for slim female figures. This issue is of key importance as preference for slim female figures have been implicated as a factor in disordered eating and body dissatisfaction seen in many Westernised cultures.