New Oxford research show the mere act of reaching for food can make us consume more

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Research by Rhonda Hadi, Associate Professor of Marketing at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, shows that actively taking food, as opposed to being served it, can generate a false sense of choice and lead us to consume more.

In a new paper ‘I take therefore I choose?’ Hadi and co-author Lauren Block demonstrate that the simple physical act of reaching for and taking an object makes us feel as though we are choosing that object. Taking things has become associated in our thinking with choice – even if in fact no choice exists and there is only one sort of food available. The authors argue that this illusion of choice can have significant implications for our evaluation and consumption of food.

Previous research has shown how factors such as cutlery weight, plate colour, glassware shape and background lighting can affect the way people perceive food and how much they consume. Based on two empirical studies, the new paper adds insight on the effect of active versus passive acquisition of food – the difference it makes if people take the food themselves rather than being handed or served it.

Hadi explained: ‘In general we tend to take the things we choose for ourselves and are often given things we do not choose. Thinking we have chosen the item ourselves, as a result of the act of taking it, makes us feel positive towards the food and prompts us to consume more, even when no real choice of alternatives exists.‘

The research could have public health implications given the rising incidence of obesity. It could be beneficial to encourage children to serve themselves healthy foods from a salad bar at school cafeterias, for example, and to remove self-service of less healthy foods.

‘Our research suggests that the mere act of letting children take the healthy foods themselves will encourage them to feel more positively towards this food and potentially to consume more of it,’ explained Hadi.

The findings could also be of interest to restaurants and other food retailers. Allowing customers to serve themselves from a buffet, for instance, will encourage them to consume more products overall as consumers would be likely to rate the food more highly.

‘What is interesting about this research are the implications for businesses and health. Not only could it help restaurants find ways to increase patron satisfaction, but it could also raise awareness of easy practical steps we could take to help tackle obesity’ said Hadi.

To speak with Associate Professor Hadi, or for further information about the research, please contact:

Jonaid Jilani, Press Officer, Saïd Business School
Tel: +44 (0)1865 614678
Email: jonaid.jilani(at)sbs(dot)ox(dot)ac(dot)uk or pressoffice(at)sbs(dot)ox(dot)ac(dot)uk

Notes to editors

About the paper
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666314002050
First published in Appetite in September 2014

Rhonda Hadi
http://www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/community/people/rhonda-hadi

Rhonda Hadi is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Her research interests lie primarily in the domain of sensory marketing. Specifically, she explores how consumer sensations can nonconsciously impact consumer judgments and consumption behaviour, with an emphasis on understanding the underlying processes behind such effects.

About Saïd Business School
Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford blends the best of new and old. We are a vibrant and innovative business school, but yet deeply embedded in an 800 year old world-class university. We create programmes and ideas that have global impact. We educate people for successful business careers, and as a community seek to tackle world-scale problems. We deliver cutting-edge programmes and ground-breaking research that transform individuals, organisations, business practice, and society. We seek to be a world-class business school community, embedded in a world-class University, tackling world-scale problems.

In the Financial Times European Business School ranking (Dec 2013) Saïd is ranked 12th. It is ranked 14th worldwide in the FT’s combined ranking of Executive Education programmes (May 2014) and 23rd in the world in the FT ranking of MBA programmes (Jan 2014). The MBA is ranked 5th in Businessweek’s full time MBA ranking outside the USA (Nov 2012) and is ranked 5th among the top non-US Business Schools by Forbes magazine (Sep 2013). The Executive MBA is ranked 23rd worldwide in the FT’s ranking of EMBAs (Oct 2013). The Oxford MSc in Financial Economics is ranked 7th in the world in the FT ranking of Masters in Finance programmes (Jun 2014). In the UK university league tables it is ranked first of all UK universities for undergraduate business and management in The Guardian (Jun 2013) and has ranked first in ten of the last eleven years in The Times (Sept 2014). For more information, see http://www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/

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