It is well established that we look to others for cues about how much food to eat. Break bread with a glutton, and youll most likely eat a big portion too. But a paper soon to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research explores the way that these choices are affected by the body type of the other person eating.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia recruited female undergraduates to participate in a dummy study, wherein they watched a video clip while eating M&Ms they had scooped into a bowl. Before each subject took her M&Ms, a trained confederate, supposedly a fellow student also doing the experiment, first took 108 grams of M&Ms, or five heaping teaspoons, into a bowl of her own. The confederate was 5 feet, 2 inches tall; weighed 105 pounds; and wore a size zero. Half the time, she wore an elaborate obesity prosthesis that made her appear to weigh about 180 pounds and required size 16 clothing. Students who saw the obese confederate took far fewer M&Ms than those who saw the thin confederate.
In another experiment, the researchers found that the obese confederates portions always inspired less mimicry than those of the thin confederate, even when small. "If you see a thin person order a salad for dinner, it kind of reminds you, If I'm going to look like that, I'd better get something very small," said Brent McFerran, an assistant professor at the university who was one of the papers authors. "If you see such a portion ordered by someone whos very obese, you think, well, they need to eat that little, they're on a diet, but I'm not like that."
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