A new study, ostensibly designed to offer food retailers novel ways to enhance consumption of their products, is suggesting people with a high degree of self-control regarding what they eat are likely to consume more food if they touch it directly with their hands. The findings reveal food can be more desirable and enjoyable when we touch it as opposed to eating it with utensils.
The study was led by sensory marketing researcher Adriana Madzharov, from the Stevens Institute of Technology. Madzharov’s previous research revealed the scent of coffee alone could generate placebo-like effects conferring cognitive benefits akin to consuming the stimulating beverage.
The new research, published in the Journal of Retailing, is based on four experiments investigating how eating food with our hands affects our perceptions of the food, and influences how much we eat.
The big overarching discovery in the study is that the effect of eating food directly with one’s hands is most prominent in subjects with high levels of food-related self-control. These subjects were found to consider food significantly more desirable when eaten with hands and were also found to eat more of a particular food when touching it directly.
Importantly, both factors relating to touching food directly were not identified in subjects with low levels of self-control. So, if you were always planning on downing that entire bowl of french fries then you’ll love it regardless of whether you eat with with your hands or a fork.
“These two groups do not appear to process sensory information in the same way,” says Madzharov. “Our results suggest that for people who regularly control their food consumption, direct touch triggers an enhanced sensory response, making food more desirable and appealing.”
One of the experiments drilled down into the differences between people with high and low self-control. That test split 145 subjects into two groups: one group was primed with a speech about careful eating, dieting and fitness, while the other group was told to enjoy life’s pleasures and not worry about their weight.
Both groups were then given a cup filled with mini-donuts, some with appetizer picks and some without. Those subjects who were primed for self-control evaluated the food they had to touch more positively than those primed for indulgence. This seemed to suggest the direct sensory effect of touching one’s food improves perception of the food, primarily in subjects with greater self-control.
Madzharov presents her research mainly within the context of commercial retail consumption, suggesting the findings can be deployed for more effective food-tasting events, or improved sampling methods in grocery stores. She also suggests catering companies could utilize these findings to increase customer enjoyment when serving appetizers.
The study does, however, accept the findings may have serious public policy implications in relation to growing rates of obesity. Unfortunately, there is little discussion in the study as to what the implications of this research are for consumers trying to regulate their weight.
“Our findings suggest that direct touch might undermine the efforts of consumers trying to control their consumption volume and thus lead to negative health outcomes for those consumers,” Madzharov writes in the study.
Ultimately, the big takeaway from this study is that it somewhat explains why you may be overindulging in that bowl of french fries, or reaching for an extra piece of chocolate. You may eat less pizza if you consume it with a knife and fork, but the study also seems to suggest it won’t taste as good as when you grab the slice with your hands. And really, who wants to eat pizza with a knife and fork?
The new study was published in the Journal of Retailing.
Source: Stevens Institute of Technology
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