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How Visibility and Convenience Influence Candy Consumption

Painter, James E. , Brian Wansink, and Julie B. Hieggelke (2002). How Visibility and Convenience Influence Candy ConsumptionAppetite, 38(3), 237–238. doi:10.1006/appe.2002.0485

How do environmental factors, such as a food's visibility or convenience, influence one's consumption volume of that food? Knowing the impact of these factors could help individuals better monitor and manage consumption tendencies of which they or their families may be unaware (Rolls, Engell & Birch, 2000).

Yet surprisingly little research has investigated the impact of either visibility or convenience on consumption. What has been done has generated largely inconsistent findings.

What happens when you move the candy on your desk just six feet? An academic article published in the journal, Appetite shows that the farther you have to walk, the less you eat but the less you think you ate. In an office setting, secretaries were given containers of chocolate candy "kisses" – their candy consumption was recorded when the chocolates were placed on the desk and two meters away.

Researchers from the Food and Brand Lab found that when the candies were on the desk, the secretaries consumed approximately 48% more than when the candies were two meters away. The twist is, even though less candy was eaten when it was out of reach, they thought they ate less. *

The secretaries underestimated their consumption of candy by 63% when it was out of arm's reach. When the chocolates were on the desk, they overestimated their consumption of candy by 13%.

This may work in the home, too. For example, if you are dieting and put the ice cream in an inconvenient place like the basement, you will probably consume less ice cream. However, you may notice you are not losing as much weight as you think you should. This may be because you are underestimating how much of the ice cream you have actually eaten.

It was also interesting to note that the researchers looked at how many candies were eaten when they were in a desk drawer. The candies were only slightly inconvenient but there was still a 25% decrease in the number of candies consumed. This underscores the fact that the visibility and convenience of food can consistently increase food consumption.

The implications of these findings are important. People need to take food's visibility and convenience into account when trying to estimate what they eat. Considering that the food, which is inconvenient to consume, may be eaten in larger amounts than is remembered.

"An encouraging implication is that if visibility and convenience increase the consumption of chocolate, the same effect may also work for healthier foods such as fruits or vegetables," said Dr. Brian Wansink, lead author and Director of the Food and Brand Lab. "What makes the candy dish nutritionally dangerous might bring the fruit bowl back in vogue."

Download a pre-print version of this article here. 

*The study was conducted at the University of Illinois, former location of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.