Vegetarian or meat? Food choice modeling of main dishes occurs outside of awareness.


Christie CD, Chen FS.

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It is well established that the amount eaten by other people affects how much we eat, but unanswered questions exist regarding how much the food choices of other people affect the types of food that we choose. Past research on food choice modeling has primarily been conducted in controlled laboratory situations and has focused on snack foods. The current research examines the extent to which food choice modeling of a main dish occurs in a real-life context and whether people are aware of being influenced by others. The lunch orders of café patrons were surreptitiously tracked and participants were recruited after they paid for their lunch. Participants were asked what they ordered, whether they were influenced by the prior order, and what their relationship was to the person ahead of them in line. We analyzed the data of participants who were not acquainted with the person ahead of them (N = 174). As hypothesized, participants' main-dish lunch orders matched the choice of the person ordering ahead of them in line at rates significantly higher than chance. A significant modeling effect was observed even among participants who reported that their order was not influenced by the prior order. This research provided evidence of main-dish choice modeling occurring in real-life eating situations and outside of conscious awareness - demonstrating a powerful social influence on eating behaviours.