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Appetite. 2013 Jun;65:83-9. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.01.020. Epub 2013 Feb 10.

Healthy and unhealthy social norms and food selection. Findings from a field-experiment.

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  • 1Department of Work & Social Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, The Netherlands.


The behavior of others in people's social environment (i.e., descriptive norms), as well as their opinions regarding appropriate actions (i.e., injunctive norms) strongly influence people's decisions and actions. The goal of this study was to extend prior laboratory research on the influence of social norms on food choices, by conducting a field-experiment in an on-campus food court. One of three different messages was posted on a given day: a healthy descriptive norm, healthy injunctive norm, or an unhealthy descriptive norm. Effects of these social norms messages on food choice were compared against each other and a no-message control condition. In total, 687 students reported their food choice through a questionnaire provided to them. Food choices were analyzed for participants who reported being exposed to one of the social norms signs and those in the control condition (N=220). Findings showed that the healthy descriptive norm resulted in more healthy food choices, compared to an unhealthy descriptive norm, as well as the control condition. The difference between the injunctive healthy norm and the control condition was not significant, though those in the injunctive norm condition did make more healthy decisions, than those in the unhealthy descriptive norm condition. Implications with regard to theory and practice are discussed.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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