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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Stigmatizing attitudes towards individuals with anorexia nervosa: an investigation of attribution theory

Kristy Zwickert* and Elizabeth Rieger

Author Affiliations

Research School of Psychology (Building 39), Australian National University, 0200, Canberra, ACT Australia

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Journal of Eating Disorders 2013, 1:5  doi:10.1186/2050-2974-1-5

Published: 5 February 2013



Guided by Attribution Theory, this study assessed stigmatizing attitudes towards an individual with anorexia nervosa (AN) compared to obesity and skin cancer, and examined the extent to which manipulating a target individual’s level of blameworthiness affects levels of stigmatizing attitudes. One hundred and thirty-five female undergraduate students were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. Before and after receiving blameworthy or non-blameworthy information relating to the target’s condition, participants completed a series of self-report inventories measuring their emotional reactions, desire for social distance, and causal attributions regarding the target.


Participants reported a significantly greater desire for social distance from the target with AN compared to targets with obesity or skin cancer, and yet (contrary to Attribution Theory) attributed less blame to the target with AN. There were significant increases in stigmatization towards targets described as blameworthy relative to targets described as non-blameworthy.


The findings provide insight into the elevated levels of stigmatizing attitudes held towards individuals with AN, and the role of Attribution Theory in partially accounting for this stigma.

Stigmatization; Attribution theory; Blameworthy; Anorexia nervosa; Eating disorders