People choose healthier food when they are with strangers for fear of being judged negative - Verve Times

People choose healthier food when they are with strangers for fear of being judged negative – Verve Times

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People are more likely to choose a healthy food choice than an unhealthy food choice among people from different social groups because they fear being judged negatively for their choices.

New research published in Psychology and Marketing Co-authored with the Bayes School of Business, it found that the presence of members of different friendship or social groups played a role in influencing consumers’ food choices.

The study, which explored food choices with those of a different race and from a different university, explains that this occurs because individuals expect more negative judgments from strangers. The research, which spoke to about 1,000 individuals in total, shows that people often categorize themselves in terms of race, college affiliation, and job affiliation.

Experiments with several hundred adults in a large US city and university found that participants were more likely to choose a healthy snack in the presence of an observer of a different gender (as opposed to the same race) or a person from a different university (as opposed to theirs). This was because they expected more negative judgments from an outside group, and thus tried to mitigate these judgments by making healthy food choices.

Four separate experiments supported the authors’ view that the presence of a stranger from a different social group (compared to a stranger from one group – such as their university) affected participants’ food choice.

In one experiment, 180 students were offered a choice between bland M&Ms and healthy raisins as a snack. In the presence of an unknown fellow student from the private university, only 12% of the students chose the healthiest raisins. However, this number doubled to 31% in the presence of an unknown student from another university.

Other experiments have shown that the reason for this pattern is that people feel that members of outside the group are highly judged, and they strategically use healthy food choices to create a positive impression to counteract this negative judgment. For example, 200 consumers were told that others around them were judgmental or tolerant. In a judgmental environment, consumers were more likely to choose carrots over cookies than in a permissive environment, suggesting that judgment expected from others explains the results.

Last month, the Action on Sugar and Obesity Health Alliance called on the UK government to act against the difference in sugar content and portion size of popular snacks. Despite many attempts to help consumers make healthier choices, consumers often struggle to maintain a healthy diet. This research found that one way to promote a healthy diet could be to advertise the social benefits of healthy choices.

Dr Janina Steinmetz, associate professor (reader) of marketing at Bayes, said the findings have practical implications for health food marketers and policy makers hoping to promote healthy eating:

“We know that food plays an important role in social life, and consumers often infer the traits and characteristics of others based on their food choices.

“Our research shows that we can use this important role of food for consumer well-being if we highlight that healthy food is not only good for consumers but also helps them convince others. These findings could be very important for those hoping to improve healthy eating practices in the UK. Because it opens up a new avenue for promoting the benefits of healthy eating: It’s good for you and your health, and it’s also good for making a positive impression.”


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more information:

Maferima Touré ‐ Tillery et al, Sense of Judgment? How does having members outside the group promote healthy food choices, Psychology and Marketing (2022). doi: 10.1002/mar.21667

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People choose healthier food when with strangers for fear of being judged negatively (2022, May 12)
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2022-05-12 19:30:29

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