Obsessive exercising is on the rise among men and boys, and one culprit may be the hypermuscular video game characters found in magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly and Game Informer reported Kristen Harrison, PhD, at APA's 2006 Annual Convention. Boys who read many such magazines tended to report greater body dissatisfaction after a year of exposure than boys who read sports, fitness and even fashion magazines, said Harrison, a speech communication professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Harrison followed 181 second-, third-, and fourth-grade boys for a year, and surveyed them about their magazine-reading habits. The participants, recruited from Illinois public schools, also indicated how they viewed their own bodies and reported how much they'd like to change them. Those boys who, at the beginning of the year, tended to read mostly gaming magazines reported more concern about their body size at the end of the year, as compared with boys who read fitness and fashion magazines. Sports magazines elicited a similar, but weaker effect-perhaps because their image of masculinity is slightly more realistic, Harrison speculated. However, a more detailed analysis of the data showed this was true only for white boys. Black boys' drive for muscularity tended to be unaffected by the type of magazines they read.
Harrison was surprised that the black boys seem to be protected from the ill effects of hypermuscular images in magazines, and hopes to explore why in future studies. The reason could be because most video game characters are white, she said.
"Both [black and white] boys tend to idealize a muscular frame, but white characters are so overrepresented in video games there are just more modeling opportunities," Harrison said.
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