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Blogger Profile

Psycasm

Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

ResearchBlogging.org

[Wherein our hero investigates why our eyes are frequently bigger than our bellies]

To welcome the new blogger to the LabSpaces line-up (JaySeeDub, here), I have themed my post accordingly. To Food.

My girlfriend has this rediculous (and infuriating) habit. When I pour her a glass of water it needs to be filled to within millimeters of the brim. It doesn't matter the size of the glass, just that the volume the fluid occupies must nearly be equal with the volume available. This is annoying on so many levels, but mostly because she never finishes her glass. This is especially frustrating when I give her a glass of my beer. She drinks only half of it, then apparently forgets about it completely. This is Beer - a vital fluid! It's not like water that flows freely from the tap. Arg!

But it raises an interesting question. How much truth is there to the statement that our eyes are bigger than our bellies? An ambiguous statement in the extreme, but what might it mean? Generally, it's taken to suggest that we overestimate the amount of food we want to eat.

But why?

Well, one possible explanation is that we desire the food in question. I think we've all experienced the hesitation when serving up the ice-cream of 'just one more scoop?'. We know we're not hungry for it, but we serve it up anyway.This seems rational enough (or perhaps just self-serving and greedy), but is it possible the manner in which we serve the food has an impact on how sated we feel after it's consumption?

Raghubir and Krishna (1999) conducted a series of exceedingly simple experiments. They found a number of things.

1.The more elongated a package of food is, the more we estimate it to contain.

2. People generally like to drink from taller glasses than less elongated glasses

3. People generally drink more from a taller glasses than they do from a more squat equivalents (volume, and all other things being held equal). And,

4. There is evidence to suggest that drinking from a shorter glass is more satisfying.*

Now that last point, for me, was initially a little confusing. But work it though - if you drink from a glass you think contains less (but actually contains the same) you rate it as more satisfying than drinking from a glass that you think has more (but, again, contains the same). Though our eyes decieve us, perhaps our bellies are more discriminating. It is the same, yet we expect less, thus we feel as though we have drunk more when we have drunk the same amount.

But are our bellies that discriminating? If we return to our original point, why is it that our eyes are sometimes bigger than our bellies? Perhaps it is simply the case we are not very good at estimating how hungry we are, or how much we think we need to eat.

Wansink, Painter, and North (2005) conducted a study reminiscent of a Candid Camera skit. They enticed students into their lab with the promise of a free lunch. Student were served the soup of the day (flavour unknown) and were told to eat their fill. Little did they know that the soup bowl was, in effect, bottomless. They had rigged a self-refilling mechanism to their lunch. Guess how much more people ate when the bowl was self-refilling.

Go on, guess.

10% more? 25% more? Half as much again?

Participants ate 73% more before they decided they were full and discontinued eating. Three quarters more than controls! Digest that fact for one moment.

They ate 173% as much food as they would have if their bowls drained at a normal rate. For the record - controls ate 250ml of soup, and self-refillers ate 430ml (SD = 180ml and 250ml, respectively)**. Ok, so big margins for the refill condition, but still proportionally smaller than the control condition. Yet the subjects all reported non-significant differences between perceived amount consumed, satiation, and the degree to which they self-monitored their intake.

I have long since switched serving my precious (and vital) beer to my girlfriend in short glasses. She drinks less, is more satiated, and leaves more for me. Win, win and win! Yet I still find it exceedingly pretentious when I dine out that my plate is 65% white space. I guess through sheer experience high-end restaurants have established successful numbers for plate size to meal occupancy ratios. In fact that would be an interesting study unto itself...

At any rate, those a few of the findings regarding the psychology of food. I can only imagine that those skilled in the cullinary arts understand such things implicitly, potentially explainingy why we have so many (confusing) varieties of bowls, plates, glasses, and cutlery.

 

*This was a study conducted by Business people - they used p>.05 (one-tailed) for significance.

**Values rounded liberally.

---

Raghubir, P., & Krishna, A. (1999). Vital Dimensions in Volume Perception: Can the Eye Fool the Stomach? Journal of Marketing Research, 36 (3) DOI: 10.2307/3152079

Wansink B, Painter JE, & North J (2005). Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Obesity research, 13 (1), 93-100 PMID: 15761167

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Blog Comments

biochem belle
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I wonder if part of the reason for leaving loads of empty space on a plate (as is the trend in many restaurants) is to create a feeling of wanting more...


JaySeeDub
Dub C Med School
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I know with a multi-course tasting menu, where the food is finished off in a bite or two, all that space is to give you a canvas for the dish, but excess space just looks bad.  And, I'll have to look for the article, but a while back someone found out that we stop actively tasting after the first few bites.  By introducing multiple courses, you keep the palate engaged instead of going on memory tasting.

And sometimes logistics comes into play.  That may be as much as the kitchen can afford to put on the plate and still meet overhead.  The overhead on a restaurant is incredibly tiny.  Desserts and alcohol are the real money makers per serving at almost 50% sometimes, while the food you eat has maybe a 3-4% margin.  A table that walks away having spent $10 over the cost of producing the food is considered a victory.  Plus the scale of the operation comes into play.  A large chain has a lower cost per unit, by buying in bulk.  Smaller local restaurant pays more for ingredients because they can't get volume discounts.  And if they're buying strictly local, prices may go up depending on the scale of the supplier.


Psycasm
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That's pretty fascinating - that we stop tasting after x period of time. It just seems an effecient use of resources, though I imagine it's something people can train in so that they keep tasting.

Do you think that might that explain why people eat bits and pieces from their plate, rather than finishing all their steak, then all their veggies, then their potato (for example)?


JaySeeDub
Dub C Med School
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It could be.  The way my ex-boss framed it, when people taste after 3 or 4 bites of the same ingredient, your body pretty much runs off memory for the next hour or so, unless there's something drastic done to those ingredients.  It explains why some of those ultra high end, 3 Michelin Star, 6 to 18 month wait for reservations that fill up 20 minutes after the phone banks open up places do incredibly elaborate menus with 10 minutes or so between courses and why the entire menu features an ingredient only once.  They're playing with the food, trying to keep it fresh and new and constantly engaging.  Of course, if I were paying $250/person, I wouldn't want the same old same old for the entire 3+ hour dining experience.


Psycasm
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I imagine there is surely expectation effects when going to such a ritzy place.... it tastes better when you know it's high end?

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