Posted by Jessica Margolin
It turns out that you don’t even have to concentrate hard to reap the portion control benefits of mindfulness!
At HAPILABS, we’ve recently been talking about some work done at Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab by Dr. Andrew Geier, Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Paul Rozin. It’s a paradox: you can be both mindful and mindless at the same time.
The idea of this research was to figure out how to stop mindless snacking by introducing mindfulness without having to fundamentally overhaul someone’s eating behavior. The researchers did a simple experiment: they brought students in to watch a movie, and served them tubes of Lays Stackables, some of which contained chips dyed red at regular intervals.
Cornell Food and Brand Lab Director Brian Wansink. Photo Credit: Robin Wishna
Some people had tubes with no red chips at all, and others had a red chip at every serving size, and another at every two-servings. So there were three types of potato chip tubes: one with no red chips, one with a red chip every 7 chips, and another with a red chip every 14 chips. (There was a second experiment to verify and expand on the first with the no-red-chip tubes, and then tubes with red chips every 5 chips and every 10 chips.)
As it turns out, college students can go through a lot of chips! But when they ran across the red chips, they stopped. In fact, the students who encountered red chips ate about 50% less than their peers without red chips. And more than that, the ones who had red chips were very good at estimating how many total chips they ate. Their estimates were off by less than one chip, compared to the group without red chips – they underestimated by over a dozen, nearly a third of the total chips eaten!
Think about it: Being “off” when you guess how much you eat by nearly ⅓ is like thinking you are taking in a daily dose of 2000 calories, but it’s really 3000.
In one class, the divider chips were simply dyed red and students were told the chips were left over from a past experiment. In the other class, it was a tomato basil chip and students believed they were participating in a study to test food companies’ new flavor-mixing strategy.
There was a plausible reason given for finding the red chips, but the students didn’t know that they were being tested on consumption. Yet, the wider the spacing of the red chips, the more people ate.
Original Publication: Red potato chips: Segmentation cues can substantially decrease food intake.