A study published in Motivation and Emotion offers evidence that unmet basic psychological needs may be linked to the drive for muscularity in some bodybuilders.
Studies suggest that bodybuilders are particularly likely to experience muscle dysmorphia, which refers to the preoccupation with thoughts that one’s body is too small, despite being of a normal build or even quite muscular. Muscle dysmorphia has been linked to serious mental health consequences including anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and substance abuse.
Previous research has explored body image concerns as a consequence of unmet basic psychological needs, but the vast majority of studies have focused on female samples. Study author Kerim Selvi of Eskişehir Osmangazi University aimed to see if Ryan and Deci’s (2000) Basic Psychological Needs Theory could help explain the drive for muscularity and muscle dysmorphia among male bodybuilders.
“Although muscle dysmorphia, a pathological disorder, has received some researchers’ attention in recent years, its etiological factors have not been understood very well,” Selvi told PsyPost.
“To contribute to this gap in the literature, my co-author and I examined whether the frustration of three basic needs (autonomy, competence, and autonomy) might be related to muscle dysmorphia symptoms. According to the Basic Psychological Needs Theory, the frustration of these needs might lead individuals to develop two maladaptive strategies; substitution of the needs with extrinsic goals (such as perfect body) or engagement in compensatory behaviors (such as rigid behaviors patterns).”
“However, as these strategies are not effective to satisfy the needs, they might lead to psychopathological conditions in the long term. Adopting this theory, we decided to investigate the association of frustrated needs with muscle dysmorphia (an indicator of both compensatory behaviors and a pathological consequence) via drive for muscularity (an indicator of extrinsic goal),” Selvi said.
A study was conducted among 245 male bodybuilders of an average of 22 years old. Subjects completed questionnaires that measured their drive for muscularity by addressing their muscularity-oriented attitudes, workout behaviors, supplement use, and eating behaviors. Symptoms of muscle dysmorphia were also assessed, with questions concerning subjects’ bodybuilding dependence, muscle checking, muscle dissatisfaction, injury, and substance use. Finally, participants completed a measurement of satisfaction and frustration with the three basic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Results showed that subjects’ overall need frustration scores were indirectly related to each symptom of muscle dysmorphia (i.e. bodybuilding dependence, muscle checking, muscle dissatisfaction, injury, and substance use) through their drive for muscularity. In other words, subjects’ need frustration predicted their drive for muscularity, which, in turn, predicted their muscle…