Narratives for Obesity: Effects of Weight Loss and Attribution on Empathy and Policy Support

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Despite an urgent need to address the issue of obesity, little research has examined the psychological factors that influence support for obesity-related policy initiatives, which represent an important tool for addressing this complex health issue. In the present study, we measured the degree to which people supported obesity-related policy interventions and empathized with a person struggling with obesity after reading a personal account of his or her situation. The narrative described an obese individual who was portrayed as either successfully losing weight or not, and as attributing his or her weight-loss outcome to personal or environmental factors. We found that protagonists who successfully lost weight and/or took personal responsibility for their situation elicited more empathy from participants, which was associated with support for societal policy interventions for obesity. These findings suggest that specific features of personal narratives influence support for obesity-related policies and highlight empathy as a mechanism through which such narratives affect obesity-related attitudes.

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