London, April 3 : Contrary to the common belief, non-Western men are generally less hung up about their body image and pursuing a muscular physique than their Western counterparts, reveals a study.
It means many of the conclusions around the drive for muscularity and its negative behaviours, such as steroid use and unhealthy dieting, are very Western-centric.
"We did still find evidence that men in these populations are influenced by both other men around them and by the media," said study lead author Tracey Thornborrow from the University of Lincoln in the UK.
According to the researchers, most of the research on sociocultural influences, like media portrayals that shape male ideals and behaviours around muscularity and masculinity, have focused on so-called WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) populations.
The research team wanted to learn if those attitudes translated to countries with different cultural norms, so they compared a cohort of British men against Ugandan and Nicaraguan males.
For the findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the team collected and assessed a number of parameters from each group, ranging from demographics and body mass index (BMI) to feelings about media influences and peer pressure on achieving an idealised appearance to personal body goals.
They also used a form of artificial intelligence to find patterns in that data that might predict which ethnic groups would be driven toward behaviours to achieve more muscle regardless of country of origin.
"We used machine learning methods because they are good at determining if sociocultural factors, such as media and ethnicity, and a drive for muscularity, make it more likely that men will actively want to change their bodies," said study co-author Tochukwu Onwuegbusi.
For example, the data from the current study suggest that being a Caucasian man in the UK or a Miskitu man in Nicaragua means that he would more likely believe that one should be muscular.
Such men are more likely to engage in muscle-building activities, such as weight training or drinking protein shakes.
"Motivations behind the drive toward a more muscle-bound frame can be complex," Thornborrow noted.
For instance, men from certain ethnic groups in Nicaragua who reported being less concerned with physical appearance were still likely to try to increase muscle mass.
"These non-media influenced motivations could include local ideas about masculinity, and a muscular body being a visual indicator of a working man, not a lazy man," Thornborrow explained.
While there is growing evidence that men in Western countries are experiencing a lot of pressure to conform to stereotypical body ideals, similarly to women, the picture emerging in non-WEIRD populations is less clear.
More research is needed to better understand the consequences of these other cultural attitudes and behaviours around body image.