What if you told your kids how much they like eating vegetables?

Cognitive Daily points to an interesting new study with a strategy not recommended for parents interested in getting their kids to eat more greens. In grand psychology fashion, this experiment involves some serious manipulation. Participants were lied to about their actual preferences. Ahem, in the words of the study, the authors “planted the suggestion that subjects loved to eat asparagus as children.” (No pun appears to be intended with the verb choice “plant.”) These “new (false) beliefs” had an immediate effect for many, including “increased general liking of asparagus, greater desire to eat asparagus in a restaurant setting, and a willingness to pay more for asparagus in the grocery store.” But beware the unintended consequences when you tell your teenager why she loves asparagus so much.

Dave Munger sums up the experiment and the key result below:

Participants were told they’d be taking a survey about food preferences and personality. First, everyone was asked about their “food history,” with 24 questions about particular foods — all these questions except one were only there to distract from the key question, which asked them to rate how likely it was that they “loved asparagus the first time they tried it” on a scale of 1 to 8.

After taking a couple of other questionnaires, again, to distract from the primary goal of the study, they were asked how likely they were to order each of 32 dishes from a hypothetical restaurant menu, again on a scale of 1 to 8. Again, asparagus was one of the dishes.

One week later, all the students were brought back and given a phony analysis of their responses to the previous week’s survey. Here’s the key to the study: as part of this analysis, half the students were told that their responses indicated they “loved to eat cooked asparagus” as a young child, while the other half were not told anything about asparagus.

Then everyone was given the original two food preference questionnaires again (one about how much they liked foods during childhood, and another about what items they were likely to order in a restaurant today). Here are their ratings for the “loved asparagus the first time you tried it” question:

A full version of the paper is here.

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