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Behav Res Ther. 1998 Oct;36(10):931-44.

Modeling of eating pathology and social reinforcement of the thin-ideal predict onset of bulimic symptoms.

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  • 1Stanford University, Department of Psychiatry, CA 94305-5542, USA.


Although social influences are thought to promote bulimic pathology, little research has examined the effects of multiple socialization agents, or considered both modeling and social reinforcement processes. Accordingly, these two studies tested whether social reinforcement of the thin-ideal, and modeling of abnormal eating behavior by family, peers, and the media, (i) correlated with bulimic symptoms in a sample of young adult female (N = 114) and (ii) predicted the onset of bulimic behavior in a sample of adolescent females (N = 218). Social reinforcement of the thin-ideal by family, peers, and media was correlated with bulimic symptoms; family and peer social reinforcement prospectively predicted the onset of binge eating and purging. Family and peer, but not media, modeling of abnormal eating behavior was associated with concurrent bulimic symptoms, and predicted the onset of binge eating and purging. Results suggest that both social reinforcement and modeling processes may promote bulimic pathology, but imply that the effects are limited to family and peer influences.

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