Awareness of monitoring in the laboratory affects the consumption of a cookie snack but not a pasta lunch
Recent work from our lab published in the journal Appetite (Impact Factor = 2.7) examined whether openly monitoring a person’s food consumption in the laboratory affected how they ate their food. Participants were asked to eat a pasta lunch followed 20 minutes later by a snack of cookies. They consumed these off a hidden set of weighing scales linked to a computer. This setup made it possible to determine: how much people ate, how long they took to eat, and the overall rate at which they ate. Half the participants were made aware of the hidden scales, whilst the other half were not told of their existence. Interestingly, when people were made aware of the hidden scales they ate the pasta no differently to when they were unaware of them. However, when eating the cookies, those who were aware of the hidden scales ate the cookies at a significantly slower speed.
According to Dr Jason Thomas “this suggests that energy dense snack foods consumed after a meal may be more susceptible to awareness of monitoring than staple food items. This is interesting from a social psychological perspective, as it suggests that although we might alter our behaviour slightly – perhaps due to concerns that we will be judged for how we eat – we do not actually reduce the total amount we eat”. More generally, it suggests that issues surrounding overt monitoring in research laboratories may not be as problematic for all foods and eating scenarios.
The paper “Effects of awareness that food intake is being measured by a universal eating monitor on the consumption of a pasta lunch and a cookie snack in healthy female volunteers” can be read here, and was co-authored by: Dr Colin Dourish from P1vital (a clinical research organisation specialising in experimental medicine) and Dr Suzanne Higgs from University of Birmingham.