The psychology of snacks

green_apple_bite.jpgThe New York Times has just published an article on the work on Prof Brian Wansink who investigates the psychology of snacking and eating behaviour.

Although, at first, this seems quite a mundane topic, his research team has produced some fascinating results that suggest that the amount we eat is governed as much by the perception of how much we should eat, rather than purely on how hungry we seem.

“We don’t have any idea what the normal amount to eat is, so we look around for clues or signals,” he said. “When all you see is that big portions of food cost less than small ones, it can be confusing.”

Although people think they make 15 food decisions a day on average, his research shows the number is well over 200. Some are obvious, some are subtle. The bigger the plate, the larger the spoon, the deeper the bag, the more we eat. But sometimes we decide how much to eat based on how much the person next to us is eating, sometimes moderating our intake by more than 20 percent up or down to match our dining companion.

His experiments even include a soup bowl that has been specially modified to slowly fill itself back up without the participants noticing. It seems the participants eat much more soup as a result, again without noticing.

This sort of research is used by food companies to try and get us to eat more, but could also be used by those concerned with healthy eating to promote certain sorts of foods and reduce the intake of others.

Link to NYT article ‘Seduced by Snacks? No, Not You’.

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