Seeing More and Eating Less: Effects of Portion Size Granularity on the Perception and Regulation of Food Consumption

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Abstract

Overeating and resulting obesity is a public health concern in the United States, and portion size is a factor that contributes to these problems (Zlatevska, Dubelaar, & Holden, 2014). The present research demonstrates that the granularity of labels used to describe portions also influences food consumption, independent of previously documented portion size effects. Across 6 studies and 7 different food items, we find a robust and reliable effect of portion size granularity labels on consumption intentions and food consumption. Having people think about food using fine-grained labels leads them to decrease their consumption intentions (Study 1, n = 80) and ultimately eat less food (Study 2a, n = 79; Study 2b, n = 79). This process operates by shifting people’s perceptions of the size of foods (rather than changing levels of construal) whereby portions described with fine-grained labels (e.g., “15 gummy candies”) are perceived to be bigger than portions described with gross-grained labels (e.g., “one serving;” Study 3, n = 200). In addition, granularity facilitates self-regulation of consumption for individuals with a weight-loss goal both when self-regulation is measured (Study 4, n = 160) and when we manipulate that mediator (Study 5, n = 300). Finally, a high-powered registered report replicated effects of granularity on consumption via shifts in perception and intentions with a diverse community sample (Study 6, n = 323). Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

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