The Food and Brand Lab
The Food & Brand Lab is a Cornell University laboratory with the mission "to change how food is purchased, prepared, and consumed. Using new tools of behavioral science, [they] invent healthy eating solutions for consumers, companies, and communities. [They] invent, redesign, and empower." Since its inception in 1997, the Food andBrand Lab is now an internationally recognized Food Psychology and Consumer Behavior research laboratory .
Eating Behavior and Your Dinner Plate: How They're Related
While it's near common knowledge that dinnerware size may influence eating behavior (with larger dinnerware influencing larger serving sizes), the behavioral reason behind this has been less clear. And, with statisitcs indicating that the average dinnerware size has increased 23% since 1900, the tendency of overeating continues to grow. Understanding subconscious environmental factors that individuals can consciously make an effort to change, therefore, may significantly alter their eating behavior with little-to-no actual effort.
A new study in this lab recently looked at the implication of dinnerware and it’s effects on eating behavior relative to its contrast to food and table color. The authors write “that the color contrast between food and plate creates an optical illusion known as the Delboeuf illusion, after the Belgian scientist who discovered it in 1865 that induces you to take more than you realize.” That is, we can technically trick ourselves into eating more or less food strictly on the color dinnerware we serve it on. Looking to subtly combat your husband’s beer belly? Look no further!
So, what's the Delboeuf illusion?
The Delboeuf Illusion is an optical illusion of relative size perception. In this case, two circles of identical size are placed near each other and one is surrounded by an annulus (on the left). The circle with the annulus (on the left) appears bigger despite actually being the same size. The Food and Brand Lab attribute unconscious eating behavior to the Delboeuf Illusion, claiming that - the larger the contrast between the plate and food on it is - the more apparent the annulus; and, as we have just demonstrated, a visible annulus casts the illusion that the inner circle (e.g. your food) is actually larger.
Researchers Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Koert van Ittersum examined the Delboeuf illusion with regards to its influence on eating behavior and “explored the effect of the color contrast between the plate and the food, and between the dinnerware and the background (i.e. tablecloth), the combined effect of plate size and color contrast between food and plate, and the effect of attention, or mindfulness, and education on the Delboeuf illusion.”
These researchers conducted this experiment by secretly weighing self-portioned pasta at a college reunion dinner on plates that either matched the color of the food (like red plates for red pasta sauce) or did not (like white plates for pesto sauce). The researchers discovered that when the plates matched the color of the food that participants actually consumed 30% more food. Thus, the level of contrast between the plate and it’s food content has a direct effect on one’s eating behavior. Similarly, researchers also concluded that a similar effect of 10% was recorded when tableware (e.g. the tablecloth) also contrasted well with the dinnerware.
1. By replacing larger dinnerware with smaller ones, you are likely to prevent yourself from over-consuming food. The research also notes that this decreased consumption is not associated with a decrease in overall meal satisfaction.
2. In addition to the size of your dinnerware, the color of your dinnerware is also important. Choosing dinnerware that highly contrasts the color of food being served reliably combats over-serving biases. If you are serving pasta, for example, you may want to choose dinnerware that sharply contrasts the color of your pasta rather than blends in with it.
3. Furthermore, by choosing a table-cloth that minimizes the contrast between the dinnerware and table, one can further reduce over-eating and/or serving.
These considerations may seem small in isolation but make a pretty significant difference when they influence each meal you eat everyday of your life. For example, eating bowls of white rice out off of a white plate may unconsciously increase your daily caloric intake by 50 calories. While that seems simple, consuming that daily for a year would accumulate 5lbs of excess body weight - simply from the color of your dinnerware.
You can read the full article here or visit the Food and Brand Lab website here.