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Pictures of hot fudge sundaes arouse: Understanding emotions improves our food choices

Menus and advertising affect our emotions, and if we understand those emotions, we make better food choices, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Authors Blair Kidwell, David M. Hardesty, and Terry L. Childers (all University of Kentucky) examined the "emotional intelligence" of consumers, including obese people. They found that people who made the healthiest choices had high correlations between their emotional intelligence and confidence in their emotional intelligencewhat the authors call "emotional calibration."

"When perusing a restaurant menu, many consumers may not be aware of the subtle implicit feelings of arousal elicited by visually appealing presentations of unhealthy food choices," the authors write. Faced with choices between healthy and unhealthy food options, individuals who are confident that they can appropriately interpret and employ their emotions, but who do not actually possess these emotional abilities, are likely to make low-quality decisions."

In the first of two studies, the authors measured emotional ability, confidence, and nutritional knowledge. They asked participants to plan meals from a menu with a wide range of optionssome healthier than others. They found that people with emotional miscalibration chose foods higher in calories, even more so than people with low levels of nutritional knowledge.

In the second study, obese individuals conducted an online survey. The researchers found that among obese people, emotional miscalibration leaves them susceptible to impulsive eating triggered by vivid pictures of food.

These results may be helpful in finding ways to help overeaters regain control. Since emotional calibration can reduce obese people's impulsive eating, encouraging emotional calibration may be useful in improving these consumers' food choices and overall health

"Specifically, we have found that possessing greater ability (for both low and high confidence groups) is necessary and fundamental to better decisions. However, we find that consumers must also possess sufficient levels of heightened confidence to capitalize on those abilities," the authors conclude.


Contact: Mary-Ann Twist
University of Chicago Press Journals

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