How physical cues surrounding foods influence snack consumption : The case of covering foods

Raghoebar, Sanne; Kleef, Ellen van; Vet, Emely de


Physical cues surrounding foods are known to influence consumption, but research into the underlying mechanisms is limited. This research aims to disentangle these underlying mechanisms, testing one specific physical aspect: the presence or absence of a cover on snack bowls. We hypothesized that the presence (versus the absence) of a cover would decrease the likelihood of consumption and that the effect would be explained through a) norm perceptions discouraging eating, b) heightened effort to take the foods, and c) lowered salience of attractive foods. In two field contexts (Study 1, 40 observation periods; Study 2, N = 711) and a lab experiment (Study 3, N = 151), the cover's presence was manipulated and the number of snacks taken was observed. In Studies 2 and 3, perceptions of social norms, effort, and salience were reported. The likelihood of taking snacks indeed decreased when the cover was present versus absent (Studies 1–3). In Study 2, the presence (versus the absence) of the cover seemed to decrease perceived social norms (p = 0.05) and increased perceived effort, whereas in Study 3 a significant decrease in perceived social norms and salience and an increase in perceived effort were observed. Moreover, the effect of the cover on likelihood of consumption was mediated by perceptions of salience. The organization of physical aspects in food environments influences consumption and may change perceptions of social norms, effort, and salience. Particularly, perceptions of salience might explain the effect of the cover on likelihood of consumption.