Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




As psychoeducational eating disorder prevention programs have not been shown to reduce eating pathology, these programs are well-suited to use as placebo controls against interventions that have been shown to be effective. The proposed study compared a cognitive dissonance based intervention to a psychoeducational placebo control group with college women. Seventy-five college women who had elevated scores on a measure of thin ideal internalization, placing them at increased risk for developing an eating disorder, were randomly assigned to either a psychoeducational intervention (n = 35) or a dissonance-based intervention (n = 40). Each intervention was composed of 3, 1-hour sessions, each woman was assessed at baseline and termination, and 39 percent of the women completed a one-month follow-up. Dependent measures included thin-ideal internalization, eating pathology, dieting, body dissatisfaction, and negative affect. In addition, initial levels of anxiety, depression, perceived social support, emotional expressiveness, tobacco use, and family discord were examined for their role in predicting outcome.

It was hypothesized that women in the dissonance intervention group would demonstrate greater reductions in thin ideal internalization, dieting, body dissatisfaction, negative affect, and eating pathology compared to those women in the psychoeducational control group. Results indicated that there were no significant differences between the two groups on measures of body dissatisfaction, dieting, negative affect or eating pathology. The dissonance intervention group fared slightly better than the psychoeducational intervention group at decreasing thin ideal internalization, however, this difference was not statistically significant. All participants showed significant decreases in thin ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction, negative affect, and eating pathology, but not dieting behaviors.

Results demonstrated that lower levels of anxiety predicted greater improvement with dieting at termination. Results revealed that higher depression levels were predictive of greater gains in body satisfaction, and low anxiety predictive of greater gains in body satisfaction from baseline to one-month follow-up. Although the dissonance group did not outperform the psychoeducational group, these results suggest that both the cognitive dissonance and psychoeducational interventions are effective, and appropriate for use with at risk college women for reducing thin ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction, negative affect, and eating pathology. This investigation did not note any harmful effects, (i.e. significant increases in eating pathology or other dependent variables) from the participants who received the psychoeducational intervention.