PROFile: Bias toward body type

Olya Bryksina, associate professor of marketing, University of Winnipeg

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

Originally from Novosibirsk, Russia, Olya Bryksina considers herself a Winnipegger after 20 years living in the city.

She teaches consumer behaviour, a psychology-based approach to understanding what motivates consumers. Bryksina’s research recently won a Best Paper Award at the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada Conference 2020, gaining recognition for her work.

Her latest publication is a paper co-authored with a University of Manitoba colleague.

“We looked at how a person’s body size, whether on the thinner side or the heavier side, will influence how observers evaluate them,” she says.

The conclusion? Thinness is associated with competence, while a person with a heavier body type is perceived as being warm-hearted.

Delving deeper into these perceptions, the researchers discovered further biases.

“Thinner people are perceived as more competent, because thinness signals an underlying attribute of self-control. When people see a heavier person, not only does it signal lack of self-control, but it also signals emotional expressiveness, such as impulsivity and spontaneity,” Bryksina says.

“I definitely think this is biased, because there are many people who are thinner and very warm, and, likewise, there are many people who are heavier and maybe not as kind but (are) competent,” she says.

“My hope is to broaden people’s minds and views (as) to how appearance cues have much broader implications than people are used to thinking,” Bryksina says in a U of W news release from October 2020.

What do you do in your spare time?

“My two daughters take the bulk of my spare time, keeping me busy with their activities. I like to watch movies. I like to take the time to exercise. I like hanging out with people I love.”

What is something you’ve learned from your students?

“I learned not to be embarrassed too easily, because students definitely have a pattern of trying to make fun of their professor. You can’t have a chip on your shoulder. This is just something you have to live with.”

Published in Volume 76, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 17, 2022)

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