“Superheroes have a considerable presence in our society and dominate popular media for boys and men, while often representing unattainable muscular ideals. The present research is the first to examine the effects of superheroes on men’s body image and the moderating role of parasocial relationship status (PSR; a one-sided psychological bond) on those effects. Men who had vs. did not have a PSR with a superhero were exposed to a muscular vs. non-muscular image of that superhero. As predicted, exposure to a muscular superhero with whom a PSR did not exist made men feel bad about their bodies (Hypothesis 1). However, having a PSR with a muscular superhero not only eliminated the negative effects of exposure on body satisfaction, but also increased men’s physical strength (Hypothesis 2). This research suggests that muscular superheroes change men’s body image and that the direction of that change is determined by PSR status.”
Bonus material from the full text:
“It would be easy to assume that the enjoyable acts of watching movies, reading comic books, and playing with videogames and action figures of muscular superheroes inevitably (and ironically) lead men and boys to the unenjoyable effect of poor body image. However, the current research suggests that this is not always the case and that the popularity of superheroes may come in part from men who identify with them, and thus experience psychological benefits from exposure. Indeed, the awesome power of Batman may come not only from his ability to defeat the likes of Mr. Freeze and the Joker, but also from his ability to make his devoted viewers feel strong and physically fit.”
Appendix A. Male Muscularity Scale:
Appendix B. Muscular and Non-Muscular Superhero Images:
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