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Body image research focuses on how ideal physical dimensions, purported by media and culture, may not be attainable for the average person. For men, that includes evolutionary indicators of physical prowess, such as heavy musculature and physical strength. Findings often indicate deleterious effects of such media on positive regard toward the self following comparison between self and ideal other. However, considerably less research concerns itself with men feeling part of the muscular ideal, thus buffering themselves from feelings of inadequacy. The current study addresses this concern through media self-assimilation (MSA), a process of imbuing oneself with characteristics of a media figure, thus "becoming" the character. We investigated how MSA with a personal ideal can bolster physical strength and self-perception. After participants provided baseline grip strength with a hand dynamometer and confidence in performing physical tasks, they engaged in an MSA experience. They wrote a first-person narrative account of themselves as either their favorite superhero or a superhero they did not like. Following MSA, participants gripped the dynamometer and reported their confidence again, along with body-esteem and attitudes regarding their performances in feats of strength. Participants' grip strength increased from baseline following MSA, but only with a favorite superhero. Confidence in performing a physical task was augmented by MSA. Results demonstrate how embodying a personal ideal bolsters a person's physical strength due to one's perception as being ideal themselves. Membership in the cultural ideal, regardless of personal meaningfulness, enhanced confidence in ability. Narratives served as a teleological proxy by creating a coherent view of the self as part of both a personal and cultural ideal.

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Graduate Research

Primary Advisor

Jack J. Bauer

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