Title: How information about what is “healthy” versus “unhealthy” impacts children’s consumption of otherwise identical foods
Legend: In Study 3, one food was described as unhealthy, and the other food was described neutrally. (In reality, the foods in each bowl were the same.) Children ate more of the “neutral” food than the “unhealthy” food. Across multiple studies, we found children preferred alternatives to foods that were described as unhealthy. In one study, they even ate more of a food described as “unpopular” than a food described as “unhealthy.”
Citation: DeJesus JM, Du KM, Shutts K, Kinzler KD. (2019). How information about what is “healthy” versus “unhealthy” impacts children’s consumption of otherwise identical foods. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. doi: 10.1037/xge0000588.
Abstract: Can brief messages about health influence children’s consumption of identical foods? Across a series of studies, we manipulated children’s consumption of identical foods (fruit sauces) by pairing those foods with brief messages about each food’s health status. What initially appeared to be a preference for foods described as healthy among 5- to 6-year-old children (Studies 1-2) actually reflected a preference for alternatives to foods described as unhealthy (Studies 3-5), including comparison foods that were described with negative or neutral content. Although the 2 foods on each trial were identical, children consistently ate more of the alternative to a food described as unhealthy. Similar effects were observed among 8- to 9-year-old children (Study 6). These results demonstrate that children’s eating behavior is affected by messages they receive from other people, including messages about health. Further, these studies reveal basic psychological mechanisms that contribute to children’s choices among foods, which could lead to effective interventions in the food domain.
About the Lab: The Shutts’ lab interests lie in the origins of object cognition and social cognition. It has a long-standing interest in how infants and children perceive and categorize objects, as well as a more recent, and now primary, interest in how infants and children apprehend their social world. They are particularly interested in the development of social categories and preferences in infancy and early childhood. When do children come to see themselves and others as belonging to different social categories (e.g., gender, ethnicity, social class), which distinctions matter most to children, and how does this change over development and a result of immersion in a particular culture? What mechanisms support the development of social categories and preferences, and what are the cognitive and affective consequences of children’s earliest social category formation?