Posts Tagged ‘food’

Some fresh ground pepper for your chocolate souffle?

February 16, 2010

Dan Goldstein at Decision Science News recounts a wonderful little story featuring Shlomo Benartzi.

Decision Science News was having dinner with Shlomo Benartzi recently, not far from his beloved Four Seasons Hotel in New York. At the end of the meal, a chocolate souffle was ordered. Halfway through the souffle, Benartzi asked “would you like any more of this?” Decision Science News declined and watched as Benartzi took the peppermill in hand and peppered the souffle. The website was thinking that this might be interesting to taste, but then salt was added to the mix.

“There,” grinned Shlomo, “now we won’t eat too much. A little trick I learned.”

Assorted links

February 1, 2010

1) Richard Thaler and George Osborne in the Guardian. U.K. pilot recycling programs to replace fines with rewards are showing results.

2) A new study finds calorie labeling for a hypothetical McDonald’s meal reduces calorie consumption. One key difference from past studies: People aren’t ordering meals for themselves. Parents are ordering meals for their children. Hat tip: Patti Hunter.

3) Crayola’s law says that the number of Crayola colors doubles every 28 years. How much faster do children who color with the original box of crayons finish compared to those with the mega 120-color box? Hat tip: Christopher Daggett.

4) A web-based version of Dustin Hoffman’s mason jars. Hat tip: Elliot Crosby-McCullough.

Assorted links

January 26, 2010

1) The New Yorker interview with Richard Thaler.

2) London’s mayor wants to start a recycling bank program that gives people shopping vouchers for their recyclables.

3) Another plug this past weekend for the automatic tax return. California says it costs $2.59 to process a paper return, but only 34 cents to process its version of the automatic tax return, ReadyReturn. The makers of Turbo Tax have been trying to end the program, most recently this fall.

4) Calorie postings at Starbucks led to lower calorie consumption by six percent–except around the holidays. Hat tip: Farnam Street.

5) Will Obama mention the automatic IRA in his State of the Union speech Wednesday?

Five guys wants you to order the big burger

January 19, 2010

So how do they nudge you? It’s all in the labels and the menu architecture, says reader D. M. Westervelt.

Anywhere else, said larger burger would be deemed a “double” (“double cheeseburger”, “double double”). Not at Five Guys; for them a “hamburger” is two patties and a “little hamburger” is one patty. And, on the menu board, the hamburger is on the far left column and the “little hamburger” is in the next column over. The difference? 220 calories and about $1.50.

Addendum: Five Guys is a burger and fries chain that originally started in Virginia.

Addendum too: In a standard two-panel folding restaurant menu, the upper-right-hand corner is prime real estate. It’s not clear where the best place is when the menu is plastered high on a wall behind the counter.

A wake-up call for anyone who thinks posting calories will be the silver bullet that changes eating habits

November 14, 2009

Based on the scientific literature, we know that people who seek out and use calorie information are likely to be different from other eaters in many ways, including their motivation to cut calories. Sure, it’s possible that some people who looked at the information were persuaded to consume fewer calories, but it is equally plausible that those who were intending to order lower-calorie meals were more likely to seek out the calorie information.

By helping consumers make more informed decisions, calorie posting may be desirable even if it fails to reduce calorie intake. But effective policies to deal with obesity will need to involve much more than posting calories. People eat too much because calorie-dense foods are convenient and cheap, with large portion sizes priced to encourage overeating.

That’s Julie S. Downs, George Loewenstein, and Jessica Wisdom on the effectiveness of calorie posting nudges.

Wharton’s Kevin Volpp thinks a revised menu design might be a better nudge.

Incentivizing convenience of ordering low calorie food, by clustering these options together at the top of the menu, seems to have a significant impact. This indicates that traditional measures of informational provision are not always sufficient to motivate changes in unhealthy behavior.

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

May 12, 2009

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.

Why would an ice cream freezer lid ever be left open?

March 26, 2009

Because it’s easier to get the ice cream, of course. From Brian Wansink’s Food Think:

One cafeteria tested (how much effort people will go to to eat ice cream) by leaving the lid of an ice cream cooler closed on some days and open on other days. The ice cream cooler was in the exact same location, and people could always see the ice cream.  All that varied was whether they had to go through the effort of opening the lid in order to get it.  Even that was too much work for many people.  If the lid was closed, only 14% of the diners decided it was worth the modest effort to open it.  If the lid was open, 30% decided it was ice cream time.

Some readers may wonder why a store owner would ever leave the lid on an ice cream freezer open? Would the extra cost of the energy (not to mention the general environmental unfriendliness of such a strategy) be worth the extra ice cream sales? Maybe not for a typical freezer. But Wansink says there are some in Europe that keep ice cream frozen from the bottom, allowing owners to lose the lid. Any readers seen or shopped at these freezers before?

Hat tip: Tom Vanderbilt.

Want people to lose weight? Put a mirror in front of the donuts.

March 25, 2009

Richard Thaler appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America last week. As part of the package, the correspondent ran an unscientific experiment of the breakfast buffet table at a local office, tweaking the presentation of the food to see the effects on eating habits. Elevating fruit on display platters is a good idea. Putting mirrors in front of the donuts works even better. The clip, which lasts about 5 minutes, is here.

The Nudge cafeteria part II

March 9, 2009

Cornell has launched a new web site,, for school lunch administrators and managers that may put us one step closer to a world of nudge cafeterias. David Just, a professor at Cornell’s Department of Applied Economics and Management explains the idea to US News:

Rather than advocating outright bans of certain foods, its goal is to “design sustainable lunchrooms that guide smarter choices.” The key word there is “guide.” Simply replacing pizza with whole-wheat flatbreads and fries with roasted sweet potatoes doesn’t allow kids to learn how to make real-world choices, says David Just…”We set it up so that everything is available and the kids are enabled to see how to make decisions,” he says. Making those decisions, he says, leads to good habits.

Among the ideas are 1) Separate cash only lanes for desserts and soft drinks; 2) Renaming vegetables (think “X-ray Vision Carrots”) or simply describing healthy foods in richer detail (think “rich vegetable medley soup” instead of “vegetable soup.” Anyone who does not appreciate the power of naming probably doesn’t eat out much. However, not all names appear to be effective. For example, calling an item “Food of the Day” doesn’t spark much of an appetite; 3) Shrinking the size of plates in the a la carte line in order to make food portions look larger, and therefore a better value.

For a related article with a headline we love, check out “When Nudging in the Lunch Line Might be a Good Thing,” in this month’s Amber Waves from the USDA. Among the more interesting observations is the long length of time (relatively speaking) that students spend in line at lunch cafeteria: 5 minutes out of a 30-minute lunch period. A long time in check-out line can expose one to more temptations , very few of which are probably going to be healthy.