Overweight people face many difficulties in many facets of their lives: less likely to be offered job offers than to be prejudiced as lazy or unwilling.
In stores, for example, salespeople tend to look less in the eye or smile less often.
A clandestine shopping experience has just shown that the prejudices extend to the form of the products they recommend for consumers: it is suggested that heavier customers buy more round products.
When an actress with a body mass index (BMI) that is within the healthy range was buying watches or perfumes, the sellers offered her a variety of products.
Two secret investigators followed the actress without the knowledge of the suppliers, to record how the products offered were angular or rounded.
So the actress put a body prosthesis created by professionals to make it look obese. Wearing the same clothes as before, but of greater size, they went back to the shops, followed again by the researchers.
In total, there were 37 meetings with suppliers.
In each of them received up to three recommendations on the purchase of watches or perfumes. After analyzing the results, the researchers found that when the actress wore the dentures they recommended buying both watches and rounder perfume bottleseadthe.
"We believe that these subtle biases that led to these results are based on more than a shallow combination of forms," says Beth Vallen, a researcher at Villanova University in the United States and the author of the study.
Internet experiments with people who did not work as vendors confirmed the existence of this kind of bias detected by Vallen and his research team.
Participants in this second study showed photographs of potential clients and asked them to recommend products to them, choosing between pairs of images that were round or angular.
"We wanted to show that this is a bias that is reflected in the thinking and decision-making processes of all people, not just sellers, "Vallen said.
And so it was: they found the same effect of trying to pair more round products with people with a higher body mass index.
The results were also repeated with different types of products: from watches to mirrors, through lamps and candles. And this occurred regardless of whether the imaginary client is male or female.
Researchers believe that bias goes beyond the need to combine people who have a certain body type with a certain type of product. Instead, they believe that what is at stake are the stereotypes associated with the product and the people.
A concrete stereotype, for example, is that overweight people are friendlier. Rounded shapes are also seen as more friendly.
The researchers also tried to determine if this stereotype was what led to the recommendation of the products, designing other experiments in which the actors behaved in a friendly or hostile manner.
And, in fact, they found that the actors they recommended more rounded products when they smiled than when they had a more severe facial expression. This last effect occurred even if they were using the body's prosthesis or not.
"We found no evidence that overweight people prefer rounded products or that people of normal weight prefer angled products," says Vallen.
As a result, this bias may mean that people end up getting systematically recommendations about products they dislike or never recommend things they would like.
Vallen warns that it is possible that similar biases may exist in areas other than the issue of body weight.
"You can look at the gender, racial discrimination, people with the face of a child. There are many physical characteristics that you can look to see if there isand trend type in other contexts, "he says.
And how can you get out of this problem? Vallen suggests that salespeople train to go beyond appearances, so they can find out what people really like, rather than acting on biases based on irrelevant factors such as body size.
Obviously, this finding is among the more harmless implications of bias on body weight.
Having a slightly rounder or more pointy bulb than you could possibly want will not cause any trouble to anyone. But it is a reflection of how prejudices about the size of your body permeate the experiences in your daily life.
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