Men's psychobiological responses to, and recovery from, a social-evaluative body image threat


Negative body image is common in young men and related to many harmful outcomes. Often, negative body image results from social-evaluative threats. Social self-preservation theory (SSPT) suggests that social-evaluative threats elicit psychobiological (e.g., shame and cortisol) and behavioural responses (e.g., submission). Exercise is a long-term coping strategy for negative body image and can reduce psychobiological responses to social-evaluative threats unrelated to the body (e.g., giving a speech to a panel of judges). The present study investigated the psychobiological and behavioural responses to, and recovery from, a social-evaluative body image threat in university men, and whether weight training moderated the expected psychobiological responses. University men (n = 69; mean age = 20.8 years, SD = 1.84; mean BMI = 25.25 kg/m2, SD = 3.23) were randomly assigned to a high-threat or low-threat condition. Results showed that men in the high-threat condition had greater levels of post-threat body dissatisfaction, body shame, social physique anxiety, and cortisol compared to men in the low-threat condition after controlling for pre-threat scores, body fat percentage and trait body image. At the recovery time point (approximately 50 minutes after the onset of the threat) there were no longer significant differences between conditions. Participants in the high-threat condition also exhibited shame-relevant behaviours to a greater extent than men in the low-threat condition. Weight training did not moderate any of the psychobiological responses. These findings are consistent with SSPT and suggest that men respond to, and recover from, social-evaluative body image threats relatively quickly.