Is this a Meal or a Snack: How Hunger Influences One's Susceptibility to Environmental Cues

Shimizu, Mitsuru, Collin R. Payne, and Brian Wansink (2010), “When Snacks Become Meals: How Hunger and Environmental Cues Bias Food Intake,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7:63 (August 25).

22 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2016 Last revised: 28 Apr 2017

See all articles by Mitsuru Shimizu

Mitsuru Shimizu

Southern Illinois University - Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

Collin R. Payne

New Mexico State University

Brian Wansink

Retired

Date Written: May 19, 2010

Abstract

Background: Whether a person perceives an eating occasion – such as a reception or party – is a meal or a snack could determine what and how much they eat. The extent to which they are influenced, however, could be moderated by one’s motivational state and will be particularly strong among those who are hungry.

Methods: Invitations to a series of buffet mixers were sent to 122 undergraduates (75 men; BMI = 22.8, SD = 3.38). Although the food was identical, the eating occasions were physically altered to appear as either a meal (ceramic plates, glasses, silverware, and cloth napkins at a table) or a snack (paper plates and napkins, plastic cups, and no utensils). After participants finished eating, they were asked to complete the questionnaire that assessed their hunger, satiety, and their perception of the foods and how much they ate.

Results: The amount a person ate was partially mediated by whether they believed the situation to be a meal or a snack. Participants who were in the presence of meal-related cues ate 27.6% more calories compared to those surrounded with snack cues (415 versus 531 calories). These results were most pronounced among participants who were hungry.

Conclusions: Environmental cues such as dinnerware and seating can cue whether an eating occasion is perceived as a meal or a snack, and perceiving a meal as a snack increased food intake at a reception by 27.6%. Importantly, the impact of these eating occasion cues is uniquely intertwined by cognition and motivation. First, regardless of the actual time of the day, people ate more food when they perceived the eating occasion as a meal rather than a snack. Second, this effect was strongest among those who were hungry. A key question for further study is whether perceiving an eating occasion as a meal rather than a snack decreases one’s intake of food later that day.

Keywords: environmental cues, social psychology, hunger, food consumption, meals, consumer behavior, obesity

Suggested Citation

Shimizu, Mitsuru and Payne, Collin R. and Wansink, Brian, Is this a Meal or a Snack: How Hunger Influences One's Susceptibility to Environmental Cues (May 19, 2010). Shimizu, Mitsuru, Collin R. Payne, and Brian Wansink (2010), “When Snacks Become Meals: How Hunger and Environmental Cues Bias Food Intake,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7:63 (August 25)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2711952

Mitsuru Shimizu (Contact Author)

Southern Illinois University - Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville ( email )

1 Hairpin Drive
Edwardsville, IL 62026-1102
United States

Collin R. Payne

New Mexico State University ( email )

College of Business
Las Cruces, NM 88003
United States

Brian Wansink

Retired ( email )

607-319-0123 (Phone)

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