Date of Completion


Embargo Period



weight stigma, stress, coping, attention, HRV

Major Advisor

Diane M. Quinn

Associate Advisor

V. Bede Agocha

Associate Advisor

Dean G. Cruess

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Across two experiments, we set out to explore whether palatable food—densely caloric, low nutrition food—acts as a stigma-based stressor for individuals who have internalized negative stereotypes and beliefs against larger bodies. Using a sample of women with a normative BMI spectrum, we test whether participant’s cognitive, physiological, and psychological responses to food map onto a commonly theorized stress appraisal process—specifically that the food images are appraised as relevant, negative, and exceeding the available resources the individual possesses to deal with the implications or consequences. Furthermore, we explore coping responses to stress through direct measurement of caloric intake in the laboratory sessions, as well as more general reported coping mechanisms. Finally, we test several mediation models in both experiments to see if stress during the tasks, either via subjective self-report (Experiment 1) or cardiac arousal (Experiment 2), mediate the relationship between participants’ feelings about body weight or size and their task performance and/or caloric consumption. Overall, we found very little support for our hypotheses. Women with greater internalized weight stigma did not show differential cognitive, physiological, or subjective stress reactions to the palatable food images compared to those with lower internalized stigma, nor did we see any differences in caloric consumption. However, higher internalized weight stigma was associated with differences in emotional processing: when completing a game with emotional stimuli, these women showed greater arousal toward both positively and negatively valenced images, and reported worse mood after the task. The limitations and implications of the experiments are discussed.