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J Exp Psychol Appl. 2016 Jun;22(2):173-83. doi: 10.1037/xap0000081. Epub 2016 Apr 7.

Sources of bias in peoples' social-comparative estimates of food consumption.

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Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan.
Department of Psychology, Santa Clara University.
Department of Psychology, University of Iowa.
Department of Psychology, University of Toledo.
Department of Psychology, Appalachian State University.
Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa.
Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa.
Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute.


Understanding how healthfully people think they eat compared to others has implications for their motivation to engage in dietary change and the adoption of health recommendations. Our goal was to investigate the scope, sources, and measurements of bias in comparative food consumption beliefs. Across 4 experiments, participants made direct comparisons of how their consumption compared to their peers' consumption and/or estimated their personal consumption of various foods/nutrients and the consumption by peers, allowing the measurement of indirect comparisons. Critically, the healthiness and commonness of the foods varied. When the commonness and healthiness of foods both varied, indirect comparative estimates were more affected by the healthiness of the food, suggesting a role for self-serving motivations, while direct comparisons were more affected by the commonness of the food, suggesting egocentrism as a nonmotivated source of comparative bias. When commonness did not vary, the healthiness of the foods impacted both direct and indirect comparisons, with a greater influence on indirect comparisons. These results suggest that both motivated and nonmotivated sources of bias should be taken into account when creating interventions aimed at improving eating habits and highlights the need for researchers to be sensitive to how they measure perceptions of comparative eating habits. (PsycINFO Database Record.

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