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
Date Written: May 19, 2010
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: Suggested Citation