The role of automatic obesity stereotypes in real hiring discrimination

J Appl Psychol. 2011 Jul;96(4):790-805. doi: 10.1037/a0021594.


This study examined whether automatic stereotypes captured by the implicit association test (IAT) can predict real hiring discrimination against the obese. In an unobtrusive field experiment, job applications were sent to a large number of real job vacancies. The applications were matched on credentials but differed with respect to the applicant's weight. Discriminatory behavior was quantified by the extent to which the hiring managers invited normal-weight versus obese applicants to a job interview. Several months after the behavioral data were obtained, the hiring managers completed an obesity IAT and explicit hiring preference measures. Only the IAT scores reliably predicted interview decisions. More specifically, hiring managers holding more negative automatic stereotypes about the obese were less likely to invite an obese applicant for an interview. The present research is the first to show that automatic bias predicts labor market discrimination against obese individuals. Practical implications are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Humans
  • Job Application
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Personnel Management
  • Personnel Selection*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prejudice*
  • Sweden
  • Word Association Tests