Dealing with Too Little: The Direct Experience of Scarcity does not Affect Snack Intake

Rongen, Sofie van; Verkooijen, Kirsten; Vet, Emely de


Background: The experience of scarcity provides an explanation for the relatively unhealthy diets of people with low income. Causal evidence for an effect of direct experiences of scarcity on eating behaviour is lacking. Methods: Two studies (N = 81, N = 115) tested and refined a self‐developed trade‐off task, in which participants' resources were restricted (scarcity condition) or unrestricted (no‐scarcity condition), for manipulating experiences of scarcity. Two further studies (N = 95, N = 122) were performed to test whether scarcity results in greater calorie consumption from snacks and lower self‐reported self‐regulation of eating. Results: The scarcity manipulation appeared successful. A significant main effect of scarcity on eating was not found; however, an interaction effect between hunger and scarcity bordered on significance, such that those in the scarcity condition consumed more calories under low hunger. In the second experiment, participants were instructed to eat prior to participation to lower their hunger level. No difference between conditions was found in calorie consumption and self‐regulation of eating. Conclusion: Although the trade‐off task appeared to evoke scarcity experiences, the present research could not support the notion that these result in unhealthier eating. A more nuanced view of the influence of scarcity on eating is needed.