Dr Scott Griffiths is an NHMRC Early Career Fellow investigating body image, eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia, anabolic steroid use, and the stigmatisation of mental disorders and related behaviours.
How did you come to work in this area?
“At the end of high school, I was always interested in Psychology but didn’t have the opportunity to study it at that level. I undertook a Psychology degree at the University of Sydney. What I found most interesting is how people feel about their bodies and what they eat, and how social media contributes to this, as did a lot of my peers who struggled with those types of issues. From there, the research took off and I haven’t looked back.
“I’m currently a Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychological Sciences and I lead a research group called the Physical Appearance Research Team. We work on projects that look at appearance-focused psychological disorders, such as eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, appearance enhancement (use of anabolic steroids and/or cosmetic surgery) through to discrimination based on physical appearance. This can be anything from weight stigma based on the size of your body through to racism and colour discrimination.”
Which of the MDHS faculty's values speaks the most to you and why?
“For me it’s a real toss-up between compassion and integrity, in terms of how these values apply to team leadership and research work.
“When leading a group of people of varied personalities, capabilities and expectations, you have to be considered in how you manage the team. You could take an authoritative approach, where you question the motives and intents of those working around you, or you could be more compassionate and presume that everyone wants to succeed, despite encountering some difficulties along the way.
“I think it’s important to take the second approach, especially over the past few years where researchers have experienced more challenges than ever. It makes a big difference to the quality of their research as when people are treated compassionately, they feel a greater sense of enthusiasm and purpose in their work.”
How are you embedding the MDHS faculty values and standards into your own work?
“Eating disorders are the fastest-growing psychological disorder in Victoria, and one of the fastest-growing worldwide. Our research into TikTok shows us that increasing amounts of appearance-oriented content are being delivered to younger users. We have found strong correlations between more regular TikTok use and experiences with eating disorders.
“In light of these fast-moving trends, the most challenging aspect of my role is coming up with impactful research that can make a meaningful difference to how people understand their physical appearance or improve the treatment outcomes of those clinically diagnosed with body-image disorders.
“We don’t want our research to appear cynical – it needs to be held to a high standard, even if that means delaying publication or not pursuing a research project because things just aren’t working out.
“It’s reasonably easy to come up with research ideas that can substantiate a paper, but it’s more difficult to implement ideas that you think will make a meaningful difference. It requires taking risks, and you may not see the pay-off for quite some time. Unfortunately for many early-career researchers, this presents a huge challenge as the timeline to demonstrate your capabilities is very short. If you take a big risk but later have nothing to show for it, you can quickly find yourself in a bit of a bind.
“Good research – the stuff that makes people go ‘that could really make a difference’ – is always the product of creativity and curiosity. So, I think compassionate leadership, while being diligent with the projects you pursue, enables my team to conduct research that will improve the lives of those experiencing body image disorders and make a real impact."
As told to Emily Wrethman