Thinking Makes it So: Food Version

by F.

When we think something is unhealthy, we think it tastes better, according to some new research. Raghunathan et al found “that people assume an inverse relationship between tastiness and healthiness—an assumption called the “unhealthy = tasty” intuition. Raghunathan et al

hypothesize[d] that when information pertaining to assessing the healthiness of food items is provided, foods perceived as less healthy will be

(1) inferred to taste better,
(2) enjoyed more during actual consumption, and
(3) preferred in a choice task when a hedonic goal is more (versus less) salient.

The authors also hypothesize[d] that the influence of the intuition can be implicit, such that even people who may not report explicitly believing that unhealthy food is tastier make judgments and choices as if they subscribed to such a view.

And guess what? These hypotheses were confirmed. I bet you didn’t see that coming.

Participants inferred that the less healthy a snack item, the better it tasted.

Participants also derived greater actual enjoyment from consuming an unfamiliar food portrayed as less healthy than participants who consumed the same food but were told that it was relatively healthy.

Participants were also more likely to select the less healthy of two snack choices when an enjoyment goal was made salient because they inferred that the unhealthy option would taste better and, thus, better satisfy their goal.

Across experiments, the authors find evidence that the effects of the intuition are obtained both among consumers who report believing that healthiness and tastiness are negatively correlated and, albeit to a lesser degree, among those who do not report such a belief.

A summery of the paper is here.

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