Friday, February 1, 2008

Unconscious perceptions of proportions guides grazing behavior

We like to believe we’re in control of much we do and how we act. Our ego and sense of self requires it. We’re not nearly in command of our actions as we like to think however.

The latest humbling reminder comes from some research, courtesy of the folks at Cornell University. Apparently, the amount we eat has much to do with a sub-conscious assessment of the quantity we are taking.

In the research study, a collection of students were invited to a superbowl party and served roasted nuts and chex mix from one of two buffet tables.
One table had two big bowls of the snacks. The other had the same amount and type of snacks split into four small bowls.

Those who took from the large bowls ate 56 percent (56%) more than those who munched from the smaller bowls. The difference: 142 calories.

"The size of serving bowls provide a subtle cue of how much we should eat," says Brian Wansink, Marketing professor at the college who led the work. "A handful of Chex Mix from a large bowl doesn't seem like enough, but one from a medium bowl seems just about right."


This kind of spatially-oriented visual processing of the brain can be used as a form of social engineering to encourage people to eat less - or more or - of certain kinds of foods.

For high calorie foods, smaller bowls will encourage people to eat less.
For lower calorie (and perhaps less appetizing but more healthy) foods such as carrots, larger bowls will encourage people to take more.

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