Behavioural explanations of anorexia nervosa (AN) suggest that slimming becomes a ‘habit’, through stimulus response mechanisms. For example, the person goes on a diet and receives praise either for their efforts or their new slimmer appearance. Operant conditioning then takes effect as the admiration from others further reinforces their dieting behaviour. Rewards may also come in the form of attention gained from parents by not eating. Behavioural psychologists also propose anorexia as a phobia concerning the possibility of gaining weight. The portrayal of thin models on TV and in magazines is a significant contributory factor in body image concerns and the drive for thinness among Western adolescent girls.
Jones and Buckingham found people with low self-esteem are more likely to compare themselves to idealised images portrayed in the media. Garner et al (1980) noted that the winners of Miss America and the centrefolds in Playboy magazine have consistently been below the average female weight and have become significantly more so since 1959. Thus the slender female perceived as being the cultural ideal might be one cause of the fear of being fat. A study by Becker of adolescent Fijian girls found that after the introduction of television to the island, these girls stated a desire to lose weight and to b like the women they saw on Western television; this lead to a significant increase in eating disorders over five years. Other research has shown that instructional intervention prior to media exposure to idealised female imaged prevents the adverse effects of media influences (Yamamiya et al). This suggests that the media can and does have an effect on the development of disordered eating and AN, but these effects can be avoided. In Groesz et al’s (2002) meta-analysis of 25 studies, they concluded that body dissatisfaction increased with media images of thin women.