People ate less when every 7th chip was colored red. It told them to stop.
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When you sit down with a bag of potato chips, do you know how many you are really eating? When do you decide to stop? A recent study by Dr. Andrew Geier, Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Paul Rozin indicates that visual cues in packaging can help reduce snack food consumption.
As reported in “Bottomless Bowls,” research suggests that visual indicators help some people determine when to stop eating. Geier, Wansink and Rozin hypothesized that dividing a large tube of potato chips with visual markers would reduce intake within a single setting.
To test the effect of food segmentation, 98 students at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and University of Pennsylvania were given tubes of stacked potato chips to munch on while watching a movie in class. Red-colored potato chips had been inserted at regular intervals into some of the students' tubes of chips to act as visual dividers. For example, a red potato chip could appear every seventh or fourteenth chip. In one class, the divider chips were simply dyed red and students were told the chips were left over from a past experiment. In the other class, it was a tomato basil chip and students believed they were participating in a study to test food companies' new flavor-mixing strategy.
What did the researchers find? Students who had their snack segmented ate significantly less. Compared to those who had all yellow chips, students with red chip dividers had reduced consumption by more than 50%. That translates to about 250 calories! In addition, the dividers made students much more accurate in estimating how many potato chips they ate. On average, those without dividers underestimated their intake by 12.6 chips and those with red chips were off by less than one.
Modest sized portion packaging is becoming more common and is proving to be an effective strategy to prevent overeating. More research is needed to know exactly why this happens, but you can certainly put this effect to use! Try a snack that is divided into smaller portions to help you see how much you are eating.
Article Summary by Rachel Eklund
• Download paper from the SSRN (the Social Science Research Network)
Geier, Andrew, Brian Wansink, and Paul Rozin (2012). Red Potato Chips: Segmentation Cues Can Substantially Decrease Food Intake. Health Psychology, 31(3), 398-401. doi: 10.1037/a0027221
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