Healthy Choices? The Implications of Direct and Indirect Stimuli for Product Perception and Food Consumption

  • Vivianne H. M. Visschers
  • Thomas A. Brunner


Consumers observe many stimuli in the environment when they choose or consume foods. These external stimuli can be differentiated as having a direct or indirect effect on people. Direct stimuli aim to influence consumers’ perception of a product (e.g., its expected taste) and their food choice. Nutrition labels, for example, aim to help consumers to make healthy food choices. In contrast, indirect stimuli are not knowingly observed by consumers but affect their food consumption subconsciously. For instance, people will buy more bread when the smell of freshly baked bread is spread throughout a supermarket. In this chapter, we review studies that have investigated how consumers are influenced by direct and indirect stimuli. We elaborate on the psychological factors that are involved in the perception and processing of these two stimuli types.

Direct stimuli are confined to nutrition information and thereby focus on how nutrition tables, labels, and claims can influence consumers’ perception of food products. Nutrition information on products can affect consumers in two ways. First, research shows that people can make healthier food choices if they have nutritional values of other products available as reference information for evaluating the nutritional value of a product. Second, nutrition labels and claims often function as translators of quantitative nutrition information (e.g., nutrient content).

Indirect stimuli, conversely, are part of the environment but will often go unnoticed as influences on food consumption. Previous studies show that a wide range of external cues can function as indirect stimuli or primers. To be able to affect food consumption, indirect cues need to prime an association that is related to this behavior. Moreover, people should be motivated to show the primed food consumption behavior.

We discuss how the mental processes of direct and indirect stimuli are related. We will also explain the conditions that determine which type of stimulus will influence food consumption, by elaborating on a dual process model of information processing.


Food Choice Nutrition Information Reference Information Nutrition Label Direct Stimulus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Environmental Decisions, Consumer BehaviorETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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