Size Matters

Small Units on a Big Surface = Fewer Calories

Davis, Brennan, Collin R. Payne and My Bui (2016). Making Small Food Units Seem “Regular:” How Larger Table Size Reduces Calories to be Consumed.The Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 1.

How does the size of the table we eat at influence how much we eat? This is the question that researchers posed and answered in a new study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. They found that table size does have a significant impact on how people perceive the food it holds and consequently how much people eat.

For the study, the researchers divided four large round pizza pies of the same size into regular-sized slices (eighths) or smaller slices (sixteenths). They then placed two pies on small tables that were just a little bigger than a pizza pie. And they placed the other two pies on large tables that were much bigger than a pizza pie. They then directed 219 university students to one of the four tables and invited them to take as much pizza as they would like to eat.

Those at small tables were right in thinking that smaller slices looked about half as big as regular ones, and they took about twice as many. In contrast, people at large tables paid more attention to how big the table was instead of how small the pizza slices were. In other words, the large tables distracted them and they presumed the smaller slices were more regular in size. As a result, people who saw a pizza pie with smaller slices took about same number as those who saw one with regular slices when served on a large table. This meant they ate at lot less pizza overall.

In summary, people ate the fewest overall calories when a pizza pie was cut into smaller slices and then placed on a large table. “To eat less food,” lead researcher Brennan Davis recommends, “serve food in small portions and on large tables.”

This article is published in the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research entitled "The Behavioral Science of Eating." This issue has been edited by Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum of the University of Groningen.