People choose healthier food when they are with outsiders for fear of being judged negatively

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People are more likely to choose a healthy eating option than an unhealthy option among people from different social groups because they fear being judged negatively by their choices.

New research, published in Psychology and marketing and co-authored the Bayes Business School, found that the presence of individuals from different social groups or friendships influenced consumers’ food choices.

The study, which explored food choices with those of a different race and a different university, explains that this occurs because individuals anticipate a more negative judgment from outsiders. Research, which spoke to about 1,000 people in total, shows that people often self-categorize based on their race, college affiliation, and job affiliation.

Experiments with several hundred adults in a large U.S. city and university found that participants were more likely to choose a healthy snack in the presence of an observer of a different race (rather than the same race) or ‘an affiliate of a different university (as opposed to your own university). This was because they anticipated a more negative judgment from an outside group and therefore tried to mitigate those judgments by making healthier food choices.

Four separate experiments supported the authors’ view that the presence of a stranger from a different social group (compared to a stranger from the group itself, such as their own university) affected the food choice of participants.

In one experiment, 180 students were offered the choice of indulgent M&M and healthier raisins as a snack. When in the presence of an unknown fellow student from the university itself, only 12% of students selected the healthiest raisins. However, this figure more than doubled to 31% when he was in the presence of an unknown student from another university.

Other experiments showed that the reason for this pattern is that people feel more judged by members of the outside group, and they strategically use healthy food choices to make a positive impression to counteract this negative judgment. For example, 200 consumers were told that others around them were critical or tolerant. In the trial environment, consumers were more likely to choose carrots instead of cookies than in the tolerant environment, indicating that the expected judgment of others explains the results.

Last month, the Action on Sugar and Obesity Health Alliance called on the UK government to take action against the difference in sugar content and portion sizes of popular snacks. Despite many attempts to help consumers make healthier decisions, consumers often struggle to maintain a healthy diet. This research finds that one way to promote a healthy diet could be to advertise the social benefits of healthy choices.

Dr. Janina Steinmetz, an associate professor (lecturer) in marketing at Bayes, said the findings have practical implications for health food vendors and policymakers hoping to promote healthy eating:

“We know that food plays an important role in social life and consumers often make inferences about the traits and characteristics of others based on their food choices.

“Our research shows that we can use this important role of food for consumer welfare if we emphasize that healthy food is not only good for consumers, but also helps to impress others. These findings could be very significant for “Practice in the UK because it opens up a whole new way to promote the benefits of healthy eating – it’s good for you and your health, and it’s also good for making a positive impression.”


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More information:
Maferima Touré ‐ Tillery et al, Feeling judged? As the presence of external group members promotes healthier food choices, Psychology and marketing (2022). DOI: 10.1002 / mar.21667

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Citation: People choose healthier food when they meet outsiders for fear of being judged negatively (2022, May 12) Retrieved May 14, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-people -healthier-food-outsiders-negatively.html

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