Monash University

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Eating disorder symptoms, romantic partner attachment, mating approaches and their correlates

posted on 2017-02-28, 01:01 authored by Dean, Cassandra Sally
Eating disorders (EDs), in women, are one of the most predominant psychiatric problems (Fairburn & Bohn, 2005), whilst in men, EDs and muscularity concerns are becoming increasingly prevalent; thus, highlighting the importance of investigating ED symptoms and body image concerns in both men and women (Kjelsas, Bjornstrom, & Gotestam, 2004). More generally, EDs symptoms impact functioning whether at threshold and non-threshold levels (Lewinsohn, Striegel-Moore, & Seeley, 2000). Therefore, research targeting interpersonal and environmental factors associated with EDs is relevant to understand complex relationships among ED symptoms and their correlates which significantly impact functioning. In Chapter One, this dissertation includes a review of the literature on ED symptoms and muscle dysmorphia; existing research concerning factors that may contribute to the development of ED symptoms is described, focusing on the interpersonal and environmental factors influencing ED symptoms within a social context. Subsequent discussion sections focus on theoretical and empirical literature associated with these factors. The expression of ED symptoms within romantic relationships was also appraised. On the basis of the findings from the literature review, a program of research was developed that is reported in three empirical manuscripts. Chapter Two provides a comprehensive overview of the research. The first empirical paper (Chapter Three) entitled, "Norms for Measures of Eating Disorder Symptoms, Drive for Muscularity and Muscle Dysmorphia for Men" utilised an Australian community sample of men (n = 284) to provide normative data for ED symptoms, drive for muscularity and muscle dysmorphia, and compared current findings to prior research. The findings indicated similar rates of disordered eating behaviours to those previously reported by university men. The findings indicate the usefulness of ED, muscle dysmorphia and drive for muscularity measures, to supply unique information regarding ED symptoms in men. These findings are relevant to Australian researchers and clinicians to assist in the interpretation of EDs, muscle dysmorphia and drive for muscularity measures. The second empirical paper (Chapter Four) entitled, "The Examination of Eating Disorder Symptoms in the Context of Romantic Relationships within Community and Couple Samples" examined associations between romantic relationship status and well-being including ED symptoms, perceived social support, anxious and avoidant partner attachment, sociocultural pressures, mating approaches and mating tactics in a large community sample of men (n = 208) and women (n = 588) and a subsample of couples (n = 80). The study found that involvement in a romantic relationship was associated with less ED symptoms, less partner attachment anxiety and avoidance, greater perceived social support, a more committed sexual approach style and more supportive and intimate mating tactics than single status individuals. Within the subsample of couples, partners were similar with regard to their level of perceived social support, global sociosexuality and use of friendship mating tactics. These findings supplement the ED literature and enhance knowledge of human mating behaviour. The final empirical paper (Chapter Five) entitled, "Romantic Attachment, Social Support, Sexual Approach Style and Sociocultural Influences on Eating Disorder Symptoms" utilised a large community sample (n = 671) of women to explore the mediating and predictive pathways of romantic partner attachment, perceived social support, sexual approach styles and the internalisation of the media's portrayal of ideal body standards to ED symptoms within a theoretical model. Romantic partner attachment was associated with ED symptoms through the interpersonal factors of perceived social support and a game-playing sexual approach style, as well as, an environmental factor of the internalisation of the media's portrayal of ideal body standards. Romantic partner attachment anxiety predicted ED symptoms directly; however, romantic partner attachment avoidance did not predict ED symptoms directly. Taken together, the findings from this program of research provide further support for the interpersonal and environmental factors contributing to ED symptoms and suggest that the attachment and mating approach frameworks have applicability to ED symptoms, thereby providing theoretical advancement in the ED literature and also prompting further empirical research. The dissertation concludes by providing an overarching view through a general discussion of the findings associated with the overall program of research. In addition, limitations and strengths of the research are identified and directions for future research are proposed. Lastly, final conclusions are drawn.


Principal supervisor

Janice Sabura Allen

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Psychological Sciences

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences

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