Muscle up: Examining psychological responses to social-evaluative body image threat in male athletes and non-athletes


Social self-preservation theory (SSPT) holds that humans have an innate need to protect their social-self, which is comprised of their social status, standing, and esteem. Humans respond to negative social-evaluative threats, in which the potential for loss of social status is present, with increased feelings of shame. Body dissatisfaction and shame often occur as a result of negative social evaluation of the physique. Athletes generally report less body dissatisfaction and shame compared to non-athletes, however, no studies have examined these body image responses to acute social-evaluative body image threat conditions. Therefore, the present study looked to examine psychological responses to social-evaluative body image threats in 49 male varsity athletes and 63 non-athletes between the ages of 18 and 28 years. Participants were randomized into a high or low body image threat condition, stratified by athletic status, and measures of body dissatisfaction and shame were taken across the session. Results revealed significant time-by-condition interactions, such that both athletes and non-athletes had significant increases in body shame (F[2.43, 321] = 4.56, p = .007) and dissatisfaction (F[2.22, 318] = 3.21, p = .038), controlling for percent body fat and trait body image, following the high threat condition. Participants in the low threat condition experienced significant decreases in body shame and no changes in body dissatisfaction, regardless of athletic status. Consistent with SSPT but contrary to previous body image research involving male athletes, these findings suggest that acute social-evaluative body threat affects men equally, regardless of athletic status.