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Influence of parental attachment and life satisfaction on social tanning behavior.


Tanned skin first became a fashion statement when Coco Chanel introduced tanned fashion models in her high fashion advertisements in the 1920s (Martin et al., 2009). Intervention strategies designed to deter body-tanning behaviors have not been successful, most likely because tanned skin has become a component of the quintessential ideal body, as portrayed in the media. Prior research focusing on appearance-based tanning emphasizes that tanning behavior, especially indoor UV tanning, is highly motivated by social influences (Hillhouse, Turrisi, Holwiski, & McVeigh, 1999). Building on the proposition that an individual defines his or her self-concept in terms of the groups with whom one associates (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2007), this study attempts to address the social nature of tanning behavior that drives individuals to maintain a tanned appearance.

In general, people identify themselves according to how others perceive them (Rubin et al., 2007). They often develop a certain pattern of behaviors with the formation of group identity (Rubin et al., 2007). A logical extension of this thinking is that some social networks may present body-tanning as a norm that all group members should adopt. Research suggests that body-tanning motives involve more than merely the desire for enhanced attractiveness. Given that group interaction influences behavior (Friedkin & Cook, 1990), socially motivated tanning behavior is an important area of research (Stapleton, Turrisi, & Hillhouse, 2008). However, it is relatively unclear what level of individual differences can explain variation in social tanning behavior.

With that in mind, this study examines parental attachment and life satisfaction as they relate to social tanning behavior (outdoor tanning vs. tanning bed use). Parental attachment is a major source of influence in the decision-making process for guidance and information among family household members (Sabiston, Sedgwick, Crocker, Kowalski, & Mack, 2007). Parents have been identified as strong role models in influencing unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and drug abuse (Cohen, Richardson, & LaBree, 1994; Buller & Borland, 1999). Thus, this study explores whether parental attachment is associated with risky appearance management behavior such as body-tanning . Previously, the role of parents has been addressed only with respect to indoor tanning bed use by examining the relationship between parental knowledge of indoor tanning risks, as well as parents' indoor tanning bed use habits. Not surprisingly, parents' tanning salon visits are a significant predictor of their teenage children's use of tanning beds (Cokkinides, Weinstock, O'Connell, & Thun, 2002; Magee, Poorsattar, Seidel, & Hornung, 2007).

Another individual different variable that this study examines is life satisfaction. The subjective evaluation of the body has emerged as an important aspect of life satisfaction (Donaghue, 2009). Life satisfaction is defined as judgment about life well-being and the concern that life circumstances are satisfactory (Dijkers, 2005). Appearance and social interaction with others are important components of life satisfaction (Suh, Diener, Oishi, & Triandis, 1998). Individuals with an attractive appearance demonstrate higher satisfaction with life, compared to individuals with an unattractive appearance.

The goal of the study was to explore college students' social tanning behavior based on their parental attachment and life satisfaction. The specific question is addressed as follows: "What influences do parental attachment and life satisfaction have on college students' social tanning behavior?"


A total of 333 college students participated in this study. They were contacted by a weblink to a survey online and were asked for their informed consent. The majority of the participants were female (80.2%) and Caucasian (76.9%). The average age of the respondents was 19.8 years old. The measurement items used were selected based on a review of the literature: the Parental Attachment Scale (Chappie, 2003); the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985); and the Social Tanning Behavior developed by the researchers. Each category was measured with a multi-item scale. Participants responded to the measurement items using five-point scales (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). To reduce measurement artifacts, dependent variables were assessed prior to their predictors. Data were analyzed using factor analysis and canonical correlation analysis. Information on participants' demographic characteristics (gender, ethnic background [close-ended], and age [open-ended]) was gathered to provide a description of the participants.


Factor analysis was performed to assess the dimensionality and measurement properties of social tanning behaviors (i.e., "I use a tanning bed with my siblings," or "I sun tan with my friends.") on tanning bed use ([alpha] = .78) and sun tanning ([alpha] = .80) (see Table 1 for all items). The measurement items of parental attachment (e.g., "My mother seems to understand me") and life satisfaction (e.g., "I am satisfied with my life") yield the reliabilities of [alpha] = .86 and [alpha] = .91, respectively (see Table 2 for all items).

Next, a canonical correlation analysis was conducted because it is the appropriate statistical technique for determining the relationship between multiple dependent and multiple independent variables (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1988). Canonical correlation analysis results in a number of pairs of linear combinations known as canonical functions. The maximum number of canonical functions derived is the smaller of the number of independent or dependent variables. Input to the canonical correlation procedure consisted of the factor score data of two independent variables (i.e., parental attachment and life satisfaction) and two dependent variables (i.e., social tanning bed use and social sun tanning.) Hence, the maximum number of canonical functions derived is two. Tests of dimensionality for the canonical correlation analysis, as shown in Table 3, indicate that the two canonical dimensions are statistically significant at the .05 level. Function 1 had a canonical correlation of .18 between the sets of variables, while for Function 2, the canonical correlation was lower at .14.

Table 4 shows the standardized canonical correlations for the dependent set of variables for the first and second functions. By examining the sign and the magnitude of the canonical weight assigned to each variable, the importance of a variable in the computation of the canonical function is determined. Interestingly, "Social Sun Tanning" with a standardized canonical weight of .86 was a more important variable in the dependent set of the first canonical function. "Social Tanning Bed Use" had a relatively small standardized canonical correlation weight of -.52. In summary, the first function is considered to be related to those individuals who enjoy social outdoor tanning. In the second canonical function, "Social Tanning Bed Use" was a more important variable with a weight of-.85, whereas "Social Sun Tanning" had a weight of -.51. Thus, the second function is considered to be related to those individuals who do not engage in social indoor tanning.

Table 5 presents the standardized canonical coefficients for the two functions across both sets of variables. The first canonical function was more strongly influenced by Parental Attachment in Social Tanning (.88), whereas the second function was more strongly influenced by Life Satisfaction (.88). These results indicate that college students who are highly attached to their parents tend to engage in "Social Sun Tanning." On the other hand, college students who are highly satisfied with their life are less likely to use tanning beds with friends and families.


The findings based on this study deepen our understanding of the influence of parental attachment and life satisfaction on social tanning behaviors among college students. One important finding of this study is that the relationship between parental attachment and tanning operates differently for sunbathing versus tanning bed use. Perceived healthier behaviors would be predicted by parental attachment, but there is an exception to the rule: outdoor social tanning behavior. The findings of this study imply that those parents who maintain close relationships with their college-aged kids might have overlooked the harmful effects of outdoor tanning while raising and educating their children. They might not have necessarily perceived sun tanning as risky behavior as other health risk behaviors (i.e., smoking, drinking alcohol or drug abuse). Even if previous studies have revealed that parents actually do not want their children to use tanning beds (Magee et al., 2007), this study suggests a different scenario regarding sun tanning; parents may view sun tanning positively as a healthy outdoor activity that can strengthen their ties with their children and possibly tan with them at travel destinations during summer. Parents should warn their children of the danger of sun exposure and should instill awareness for their families to incorporate skin cancer prevention behaviors into their routines.

The findings of this study provide a basis for future studies and assist in developing intervention strategies to promote safe sun tanning practices. Public campaigns about the negative consequences of sun tanning should be emphasized and aimed at all age groups, not just younger adults. Parents and their children should communicate about sunbathing practices when their children start to engage in tanning. An in-depth analysis about communication regarding tanning behaviors among family members would be of interest to develop guidelines on how parents can approach tanning education to their children at home.

Future studies might further examine how maternal factors, such as mother--adolescent connectedness, relationship satisfaction, and health-related communication are associated with adolescents' tanning behaviors as well as health-risk behaviors (Sieving, McNeely, & Blum, 2000). In addition, there are differences between mother-son relationships, and mother-daughter relationships, as young females pay more attention to their appearance and are identified as the most frequent tanners. Future studies might also investigate tanning practices in relation to family characteristics (i.e., socioeconomic status, ethnic background) and individual personal characteristics (i.e., self-esteem). Finally, there is a need to develop accurate profiling of habitual and frequent body-tanners because this study has confirmed that body-tanning education should be delivered to a wide range of age groups, for both parents and their children.

Life satisfaction, involving social tanning behaviors, encompasses the notion that tanning behaviors should be understood by a complex set of variables. Studies have found that individuals with the "right" tan enjoy displaying and comparing their tans with others as a way of boosting their sense of achievement with regard to their appearance (Shoveller, Lovato, Young, & Moffat, 2003). However, an intriguing finding of this study is that life satisfaction inversely influences indoor tanning. One possible explanation for this is that having a strong drive to achieve the right tanned skin color does not contribute to the life satisfaction of these individuals. For example, the drive to be attractive only intensifies their desire to tan, and to a certain degree, this may lead to excessive tanning behavior, which counteracts with having better life circumstances. In addition, a well-achieved tan is emphasized in media presentations (Martin et al., 2009), in which the media create body ideals that are difficult to accomplish. Frequent indoor tanners are more exposed to tanned models through magazines, therefore, the lower life satisfaction may lead to frequent indoor tanning. .

It could be inferred that the benefits perceived from indoor and outdoor tanning may also be very different. For example, the level of physical activity contributes to the quality of life (Tasiemski, Kennedy, Gardner, & Taylor, 2005), and outdoor sun tanning, to some degree, can be considered as physical activity. The fundamental difference between outdoor and indoor tanning behavior is that indoor tanning is practiced by one person alone, therefore, the appearance-based tanning motive may be stronger for indoor tanners, compared to outdoor tanners

Interventions aimed at reducing skin cancer should consider ways to improve the quality of relationships and life. The quality of his or her social relationships can have the potential to reduce the use of harmful tanning beds. In addition, a multitude of factors also can be associated with tanning behaviors, even if these variables (i.e., body image, peer and media influence, romantic partner, demographic information) are not tested in this study. Tanning behavior can be predicted by perceived pro-tanning norms, which are promoted by the popular culture frequently showing images of tanned people (Davis, Cokkinides, Weinstock, O'Connell, & Wingo, 2002; Cho, Lee, & Wilson, 2010). The social pressure to be attractive is one significant factor that drives people to engage in social tanning because young females were more likely to view indoor tanning positively if their friends use those devices (Geller et al., 2002). Stapleton, Turrisi and Hillhouse (2008) found that college students who identify themselves with the popular crowd are frequent body-tanners, and perceive body-tanning as ideal and hold the belief that tanning makes them more popular (Stapleton et al., 2008). Therefore, an in-depth analysis of the factors influencing tanning behavior is critical for the development of effective interventions designed to reduce harmful tanning behaviors. A combination of sociocultural and cognitive factors can provide a broader conceptual model of tanning behaviors.

Demographic variables (e.g., gender, age, education, income, occupation, marital status) related to using indoor tanning may be of interest to further analyze body-tanning behaviors. A diverse range of demographics should also be targeted. For example, socioeconomic status would be an important factor in using tanning beds, as it costs money to use such beds. Body-tanners are generally portrayed as young women with high incomes, but an in-depth analysis of the demographic profile related to life satisfaction may stigmatize the image of habitual tanners.


The influence of parental attachment and life satisfaction contributes to an understanding of social tanning behaviors, for both outdoor and indoor tanning among U.S. college students. Parents should be aware that sunbathing can also increase skin cancer risk, and their own sunbathing practices can be observed by their children and family members, which influence outdoor sun tanning behaviors of their children. As the effects of parental attachment significantly differ between indoor versus outdoor tanning behaviors, parents should pay particular attention to their children to prevent outdoor tanning behaviors as an intervention strategy, especially for female Caucasians, a very high-risk group in terms of skin-type susceptibility that leads to skin cancer (Cokkinides et al., 2002; Demko, Borawski, & Debanne, 2003).

A tanned appearance can be a reflection of the self because attitudes toward the self may correspond to their social circles of individuals. As social role performance is important with respect to parental attachment and life satisfaction, building healthy social relationships will enhance healthy body management. This is the configuration of society, where people are preoccupied with their appearance, and they have a strong belief that conforming to the ideal appearance will affect their social interactions. Concepts learned with respect to the effect of social relationships to sun tanning behaviors can be applied to developing healthy sun practices. For example, having a friend who regularly uses sunscreen is associated with personal sunscreen use (Jackson & Aiken, 2000). In addition, maternal communication about sunscreen use revealed that even occasional communication about sunscreen use was positively associated with sunscreen adoption by their children (Kahn, Huang, Ding, Geller & Frazier, 2011).


There are several limitations of this study that should be taken into consideration. The participants were surveyed at a single time point, so that conclusions regarding causality cannot be made.

In addition, this study relied on self-reports and involves a scale of social tanning behaviors the researchers developed. Although the measurement items demonstrated an acceptable level of internal consistency reliability as evidence of unidimentionality of the construct, they were still in the exploratory phase and may limit the validity of the data. Future research should employ a more rigorous scale development procedure in order to fully capture the psychometric property of social tanning behaviors. Nevertheless, the data provides new insights into social tanning behaviors with respect to parental attachment and life satisfaction. Future research should incorporate more comprehensive variables that influence the tanning behaviors.

For example, sociocultural influences may predict pro-tanning norms and behaviors. It would be interesting to note how maternal communication affects tanning attitudes and to develop the multigenerational approach to other appearance-related behaviors. Interventional efforts at home should be emphasized, although they should also be continued at school. Although altering beliefs about the desirability of tanned skin may be beneficial, it may also be helpful to promote sunless tanning products as healthy tanning alternatives to UV exposure.

Jeong-Ju Yoo, Ph.D.

Hye-Young Kim, Ph.D.

Send correspondence to Jeong-Ju Yoo, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Apparel Merchandising Program, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, One Bear Place #97346, Baylor University Waco, Texas 76798-7346, Email:, Phone: 254-710-3630, Fax: 254-710-3629; Hye-Young Kim, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Retail Merchandising Program, Department of Design, Housing and Apparel, University of Minnesota, 240 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108-6136, E-mail:, Phone: 612-624-4904


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Table 1. Social Tanning: Exploratory Factor Analysis

Factor/Item              Factor     Eigenvalue   % of       Cronbach's
                         Loading                 Variance
Social Tanning Bed Use              2.28         38.0        .78

I use a tanning bed      .92
  with my siblings.
I use a tanning bed      .87
  with my parents.
I use a tanning bed      .73
  with friends.

Social Sun Tanning                  2.09         34.8        .80

I sun tan with friends.  .85
I sun tan with my        .79
I sun tan with my        .78

Table 2. Life Satisfaction and Parental Attachment: Factor Analysis

Factor/Item              Factor     Eigenvalue   % of       Cronbach's
                         Loading                 Variance
Life Satisfaction                   3.79         34.49      .91
I am satisfied with      .88
  my life.
So far, I have gotten    .86
  the important things
  I want in life.
The conditions of my     .85
  life are excellent.
In most ways, my life    .83
  is close to my ideal.
If I could live my       .83
  over, I would change
  almost nothing.
Parental Attachment                 3.61         32.82      .86
My mother seems to       .82
  understand me.
My mother sticks by me   .81
  if I get into
I would like to be the   .77
  kind of person my
  mother is.
I talk over future       .76
  plans with my
My father sticks by me   .73
  if I get into
I would like to be the   .64
  kind of person my
  father is.

Table 3. Tests of Canonical Dimension

Function    Canonical    R2      Multivariate   df 1    df 2    p
            R                    F

1           .18          .03     3.06           4       448     .016
2           .14          .02     4.59           1       225     .033

Table 4. Standardized Canonical Coefficients in the
Dependent Variable Set


                           1       2

Social Tanning Bed Use     -.52    -.85
Social Sun Tanning         .86     -.51

Table 5: Relationships between Independent and Dependent
Variables Sets


                           1       2

Parental Attachment        .88     -.47
Life Satisfaction          .48     .88
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Author:Yoo, Jeong-Ju; Kim, Hye-Young
Publication:American Journal of Health Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2015
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