Jennifer J. Argo & Katherine White
When Do Consumers Eat More? The
Role of Appearance Self-Esteem and
Food Packaging Cues
Prior research has found that under certain conditions, small packages can paradoxically increase consumption. The authors build on this work by suggesting that people low in appearance self-esteem (ASE) are particularly sensitive to external control properties (i.e., packaging-related factors that signal the ability of packaging to regulate food intake) and, as a result, increase consumption levels when packages are small (vs. large or absent). Factors that highlight the external control properties of small packages, such as the visibility of product quantity, location of the caloric content, and communicated caloric content, further increase consumption, particularly among people with low ASE. The underlying process appears to be, at least in part, cognitively driven. The effects are mitigated when participants are under cognitive load, and the findings are mediated by cognitions regarding the ability of small packages to regulate food intake. The results have important practical implications suggesting that to quell the effects of small packages on overconsumption, emphasis on the external control properties of small packages should be minimized.
Keywords: package size, self-regulation, external controls, overconsumption, appearance self-esteem
Dedrick 2006). The overwhelming success of these small
package options is likely due to the perception that they
allow consumers to indulge in foods they love while feeling
virtuous for eating only small amounts. Indeed, recent
research has found that consumers intuitively believe that
small packages can limit caloric intake (Coelho do Vale,
Pieters, and Zeelenberg 2008) and that, under certain conditions, consumers will consume more when the package format is small as opposed to large (Coelho do Vale, Pieters, and Zeelenberg 2008; Scott et al. 2008). In the current
research, we build on this prior work by demonstrating that
size alone can influence consumption (i.e., we show a main
effect for package size) and that this is moderated by
appearance self-esteem (ASE)—that is, the self-worth a
person derives from his or her body-image and weight. We
posit that the size of small packages conveys information
about the package’s regulatory ability (i.e., that the small package size can function as an external control of food
intake) and that certain types of consumers are more likely
to rely on this information. We propose that consumers low
in ASE are particularly likely to rely on the external control that small packages offer and will consume more when
multiple small packages are present than when large packages are present or when individual packages are absent. Furthermore, we suggest that additional factors (i.e., visibility of the product quantity, location of the caloric content, and communicated caloric content) that further highlight (or downplay) the small package’s ability to control consumption will augment (or mitigate) this effect. Finally, we argue that responses to small packages are driven, at least in part, by low-ASE consumers engaging in a cognitive process of
transferring the responsibility of controlling food intake
from the self to the package. When they do, they rely on the
besity rates worldwide have escalated to the point of
becoming a problem of epidemic proportions
(World Health Organization 2007). It is estimated
that 64% of American adults more than 20 years of age are
overweight or obese and that if the current trend continues, this number could reach 75% by 2015 (Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention 2003/2004). This has profound
medical and economic consequences, with total health costs
related to overweight people in the United States alone estimated at $92.6 billion in 2002 (National Center for Health Statistics 2004). Given the serious implications of consumers’ expanding...
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