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Stigmatizing Effects of Perceived Responsibility for Causing and Resolving One's Eating Disorder Open Access

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Individuals who have eating disorders or are obese experience stigmatization, which can lead to a variety of negative outcomes including further disordered eating and lower self-esteem (Puhl & Suh, 2015). Research on stigmatization of individuals with eating disorders and contributors to it is important to improve public understanding and enhance treatment effectiveness. In the present study, we examine perceptions of individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) and binge eating disorder (BED) in relation to views of a client's responsibility for having an eating disorder and for overcoming it. This study expands upon previous research, in which responsibility for solving one's problem is understudied. The goals of the study are: (1) to compare stigmatizing perceptions of young women with BED and AN, and (2) drawing on Brickman et al. (1982), to explore the implications for stigmatization of information presented by a therapist about, and participants' perceptions of, the client's personal responsibility for causing and resolving her eating disorder. We hypothesized that high responsibility for causing the disorder would have more negative implications than high responsibility for resolving it. Participants read a one-page vignette describing a female college student diagnosed with either AN or BED. One of five therapist assessments of the client was then presented: Low responsibility for cause/Low responsibility for solution, High responsibility for cause/low responsibility for solution, Low responsibility for cause/High responsibility for solution, High responsibility for cause/High responsibility for solution, and a Control/No further information condition. Scales measured perceived causality and responsibility, and multiple aspects of stigma. The client with BED was viewed as more personally responsible for causing her condition than the woman with AN; however, the woman with AN was viewed as more impaired or maladjusted, confirming previous research. Responsibility for causing one's eating disorder was found to have a greater impact on stigmatization than responsibility for resolving the disorder. This was especially clear when participants' perceptions of responsibility rather than manipulated responsibility were analyzed. Although the results confirm previous research in some respects, they leave open questions about the influence of responsibility for solving one's disorder on stigmatization.

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