The unit size effect of indulgent food: How eating smaller sized items signals impulsivity and makes consumers eat less

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In deciding how much to eat, people are influenced by environmental cues. The unit size of food (i.e. the number of units in which a given amount of food is divided) provides such a cue. Previous research showed that given equal caloric and volumetric content, smaller units of food tend to reduce food consumption. We propose that the unit size of food impacts intake as it influences perceptions of impulsiveness and appropriateness. Our analysis is based on three experimental studies, all employing between subject designs. When consuming similar amounts of chocolates in studies 1 (n¿=¿118) and 2 (n¿=¿124), both studies show that consumption of five small units of chocolates is considered to be more impulsive, excessive and less appropriate than consuming one large unit of chocolate. Results of a third study (n¿=¿165) indicate that about 23% less chocolate is eaten when it is presented in small unit size vs. a large unit size and this effect is mediated by perceptions of impulsivity. All three studies suggest that perceptions of impulsivity and excess eating while eating several smaller units of food compared to one large unit might be a key factor explaining consumption effects in earlier studies on this bias.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1081-1103
JournalPsychology and Health
Volume29
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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Impulsive Behavior
Eating
Food
Cues
Chocolate
Research

Keywords

  • portion size
  • energy-intake
  • self-control
  • item sizes
  • consumption
  • children
  • decrease
  • obesity
  • cues
  • behavior

Cite this

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title = "The unit size effect of indulgent food: How eating smaller sized items signals impulsivity and makes consumers eat less",
abstract = "In deciding how much to eat, people are influenced by environmental cues. The unit size of food (i.e. the number of units in which a given amount of food is divided) provides such a cue. Previous research showed that given equal caloric and volumetric content, smaller units of food tend to reduce food consumption. We propose that the unit size of food impacts intake as it influences perceptions of impulsiveness and appropriateness. Our analysis is based on three experimental studies, all employing between subject designs. When consuming similar amounts of chocolates in studies 1 (n¿=¿118) and 2 (n¿=¿124), both studies show that consumption of five small units of chocolates is considered to be more impulsive, excessive and less appropriate than consuming one large unit of chocolate. Results of a third study (n¿=¿165) indicate that about 23{\%} less chocolate is eaten when it is presented in small unit size vs. a large unit size and this effect is mediated by perceptions of impulsivity. All three studies suggest that perceptions of impulsivity and excess eating while eating several smaller units of food compared to one large unit might be a key factor explaining consumption effects in earlier studies on this bias.",
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The unit size effect of indulgent food: How eating smaller sized items signals impulsivity and makes consumers eat less. / van Kleef, E.; Kavvouris, C.; van Trijp, J.C.M.

In: Psychology and Health, Vol. 29, No. 9, 2014, p. 1081-1103.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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N2 - In deciding how much to eat, people are influenced by environmental cues. The unit size of food (i.e. the number of units in which a given amount of food is divided) provides such a cue. Previous research showed that given equal caloric and volumetric content, smaller units of food tend to reduce food consumption. We propose that the unit size of food impacts intake as it influences perceptions of impulsiveness and appropriateness. Our analysis is based on three experimental studies, all employing between subject designs. When consuming similar amounts of chocolates in studies 1 (n¿=¿118) and 2 (n¿=¿124), both studies show that consumption of five small units of chocolates is considered to be more impulsive, excessive and less appropriate than consuming one large unit of chocolate. Results of a third study (n¿=¿165) indicate that about 23% less chocolate is eaten when it is presented in small unit size vs. a large unit size and this effect is mediated by perceptions of impulsivity. All three studies suggest that perceptions of impulsivity and excess eating while eating several smaller units of food compared to one large unit might be a key factor explaining consumption effects in earlier studies on this bias.

AB - In deciding how much to eat, people are influenced by environmental cues. The unit size of food (i.e. the number of units in which a given amount of food is divided) provides such a cue. Previous research showed that given equal caloric and volumetric content, smaller units of food tend to reduce food consumption. We propose that the unit size of food impacts intake as it influences perceptions of impulsiveness and appropriateness. Our analysis is based on three experimental studies, all employing between subject designs. When consuming similar amounts of chocolates in studies 1 (n¿=¿118) and 2 (n¿=¿124), both studies show that consumption of five small units of chocolates is considered to be more impulsive, excessive and less appropriate than consuming one large unit of chocolate. Results of a third study (n¿=¿165) indicate that about 23% less chocolate is eaten when it is presented in small unit size vs. a large unit size and this effect is mediated by perceptions of impulsivity. All three studies suggest that perceptions of impulsivity and excess eating while eating several smaller units of food compared to one large unit might be a key factor explaining consumption effects in earlier studies on this bias.

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