Western views of fat adopted around the world, a link between a messy environment and stereotypes, and more in this week's news

Fat stigma goes global
Overweight people now attract a heavy dose of reproach in societies around the world. Descriptions of fat people as ugly, undesirable, lazy and lacking self-control characterized survey responses of people from cities and urban areas in nine locations including American Samoa, Mexico City and several others where large, plump bodies have traditionally been favored, says a team led by anthropologist Alexandra Brewis of Arizona State University in Tempe. Western views of slimness as good and fatness as bad are spreading rapidly via mass media and public health messages about obesity’s dangers, the researchers suggest in the April Current Anthropology. —Bruce Bower

Vulnerable eyes of war
Soldiers who look away from fearful faces and fixate on sad faces in a lab test may be especially apt to develop psychological problems after serving in war zones. In a study to appear in the American Journal of Psychiatry, army recruits who tended to avert their eyes from images of scared faces presented prior to Iraq deployments reported a surplus of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after experiencing combat and other war stresses. Recruits whose gazes lingered on sad faces were especially likely to cite signs of depression after encountering such stresses, say psychologist Christopher Beevers of the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues. —Bruce Bower

Messy stereotypes

Editor’s note: The study described in the brief below has been retracted.

Stereotypes may sometimes work like mental vacuum cleaners that suck up people’s discomfort with physical chaos. In Dutch experiments conducted in a train station and on a street in an affluent neighborhood, white volunteers more often endorsed stereotypical views of Muslims, homosexuals and Dutch in general if the setting was noticeably messy and disordered, say psychologists Diederik Stapel of Tilburg University and Siegwart Lindenberg of the University of Groningen, both of the Netherlands. Additional experiments described by the researchers in the April 8 Science indicate that viewing messy, disordered scenes increases people’s need for structure, prompting a turn to the certainty of stereotypes. —Bruce Bower

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