Body surveillance, but not body-related emotions, impact cognitive and motor performance among adolescents


The salience of social status and appearance during adolescence can lead some to chronically monitor their appearance (i.e., body surveillance) and experience negative body-related emotions, such as shame and guilt. These body image processes impact physical activity outcomes, and theoretical tenets suggest by hindering underlying cognitive and motor skills. This study focused on how individuals with relatively lower or higher levels of body surveillance and negative body-related emotions perform on a mental rotation task. Adolescents (n=73; 12-18 years old; 41 females) completed surveys on body surveillance and body-related emotions before completing a hand laterality judgement task (HLJT). In the HLJT, participants were presented with the palmar or dorsal surface of a left or right hand in an upright or upside-down orientation and had to determine if the image was a left or right hand. Consistent with previous literature, RTs were shortest for upright hands (M = 1294, SD = 327 ms) and were longest for upside-down hands (M = 1925, SD = 536 ms). Participants higher in body surveillance had longer overall RTs (M = 1727, 95% CI [1595, 1860] ms) and were more detrimentally affected by the orientation of the hand than participants lower in body surveillance (M = 1517, 95% CI [1385, 1649] ms). Levels of shame and guilt did not affect performance. These data indicate that adolescents who more frequently monitor their appearance are less efficient at performing cognitive tasks that involve the body. These results have implications for adolescents' physical activity experiences.