Eating by example. Effects of environmental cues on dietary decisions

S. Prinsen, D.T.D. de Ridder, E.W.M.L. de Vet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: The present studies examined the role of environmental cues in steering people’s dietary decisions in response to food temptations. Based on the notion that people show a tendency to conform to eating standards derived from the eating behavior of others, it was hypothesized that communication of other people’s dietary decisions through environmental cues affect whether and what people eat. Methods: Conformity to environmental cues about food intake was assessed in a local bakery (Study 1, N = 144) and a lab setting (Study 2, N = 65). Participants were unobtrusively presented with a bowl of individually wrapped chocolates. The presence of empty wrappers was manipulated, to indicate whether others who had been in the same situation had or had not eaten. Conformity to environmental cues about food choice was assessed in Study 3 (N = 90). Participants were required to choose between a healthy and an unhealthy snack. Food wrappers indicated whether previous participants had chosen the healthy or the unhealthy snack. Results: As expected, participants were more likely to take chocolates in the presence of an environmental cue that others did too. Also, participants were more likely to choose a snack that was consistent with the choice of others. Conclusions: Together, these findings support our main hypothesis that environmental cues steer people’s decisions concerning food intake and food choice. Moreover, the results suggest that only small changes in the environment may support healthy eating behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-5
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • social norms
  • food choice
  • behavior

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