FSE 2: Positive body image in autism: Understanding the links and development of a health-promoting intervention

Faculty: Science and Engineering

Supervisors: Dr Jane Aspell, Prof Viren Swami, and Dr Jennifer Todd

Interview date: 24 March 2022

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by difficulties with social interaction. Research suggests autistic individuals experience more mental health difficulties than neurotypical peers, including more negative body image (i.e., negative body experiences).

However, no research to date has examined associations with positive body image (PBI), or “an overarching love and respect for the body”. Our research team has pioneered work in this area, including demonstrating robust associations between PBI and psychological well-being and healthy weight management in neurotypical adults.

The successful candidate will: (a) explore, for the first time, lived experiences of PBI in autistic individuals; (b) examine the psychometric validity of existing PBI instruments in autistic individuals; (c) examine associations between autistic traits and PBI, and; (d) develop a novel intervention to promote PBI in autistic adults.

Following from our published research investigating with marginalised communities, the candidate will use photo-elicitation techniques where individuals will be asked to share difficult-to-articulate experiences by taking photographs and then talking about them. A “sensitive research protocol” will be employed in these interviews and data analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.

It is also anticipated that the project will include use of two key positive body image instruments: the Body Appreciation Scale-2 and the Functionality Appreciation Scale and, in large samples, multiple indices of validity and reliability of these instruments in autistic adults will be examined.

The final aim will be to develop a tailored intervention aimed at promoting PBI in autistic individuals that will leverage our work with neurotypical adults, where we have shown that mindfulness-based interventions promote healthier body image.

Dr Jane Aspell is an experienced researcher and supervisor who has previously supported projects on body perception in autism. She is an international expert in bodily self-consciousness.

Prof Viren Swami is a world-leading expert in positive body image and is ranked in the top 2% of the most-cited scientists in the world. He has in-depth experience of the methodologies proposed in this project, including in historically marginalised communities.

Dr Jennifer Todd conducts research into body image and has in-depth knowledge of psychometric methodologies and has experience with clinical groups.

If you would like to discuss this research project prior to application, please contact jane.aspell@aru.ac.uk

Apply online by 27 February 2022.

Funding notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. For 2022/3 this will be £15,609 per year. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship terms and conditions. Please note that the University asserts the right to claim any intellectual property generated by research it funds.

Download the full terms and conditions.