Healthy Choices? The Implications of Direct and Indirect Stimuli for Product Perception and Food Consumption
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.
KeywordsFood Choice Nutrition Information Reference Information Nutrition Label Direct Stimulus
- Bargh JA. In: Higgins ET, Sorrentino RM, editors. Handbook of motivation and cognition: Foundations of social behavior. New York: Guilford; 1990. p. 93–130.Google Scholar
- Bargh JA, Chartrand TL. In: Reis HT, Judd CM, editors. Handbook of research methods in social and personality psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2000. p. 253–85.Google Scholar
- British Market Research Bureau. Comprehension and use of UK nutrition signpost labelling schemes. London: Food Standards Agency; 2009.Google Scholar
- Brunner T, Siegrist M. Primed to eat less: How unobtrusive external cues influence how much we eat. Unpublished manuscript. Zurich: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich; 2009.Google Scholar
- Chaiken S, Liberman A, Eagly AH. In: Uleman JS, Bargh JA, editors. Unintended thought. New York: Guilford; 1989. p. 212–52.Google Scholar
- Danzig F. Advertising Age. 1962; 33.Google Scholar
- Fazio RH, Towles-Schwen. In: Chaiken S, Trope Y, editors. Dual process theories in social psychology. New York: Guilford; 1999. p. 97–116.Google Scholar
- Henderson C. Wall Street J. 1957; 1:14.Google Scholar
- Herman P, Polivy J. In: Stunkard A, Stellar E, editors. Eating and its disorders. New York: Raven Press; 1984. p. 141–56.Google Scholar
- Higgins E. In: Higgins E, Kruglanski A, editors. Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles. New York: Guilford Press; 1996. p. 133–68.Google Scholar
- Khan U, Dhar R, Wertenbroch K. In: Ratneshwar S, Mick DG, editors.Inside consumption: Frontiers of research on consumer motives, goals, and desires. London: Routledge; 2005. p. 144–65.Google Scholar
- Levy AS, Fein SB, Schucker RE. J Public Policy Mark. 1996; 15:1–15.Google Scholar
- Lyman B. A psychology of food. More than a matter of taste. New York: Van Nostrand-Reinhold; 1989.Google Scholar
- Nisbett R, Storms M. In: London H, Nisbett R, editors. Thought and feeling: Cognitive alternation of feeling states. Chicago, IL: Aldine; 1974. p. 190–208.Google Scholar
- Petty RE, Cacioppo JT. Communication and persuasion: Central and peripheral routes to attitude change. New York: Springer; 1986.Google Scholar
- Schachter S, Friedman L, Handler J. In: Schachter S, Rodin J, editors. Obese humans and rats. Potomac, MD: Erlbaum; 1974. p. 61–4.Google Scholar
- Van Kleef E, van Trijp H, Paeps F, Fernández-Celemín L. Public Health Nutr. 2007; 1–11.Google Scholar
- Visschers VHM, Hess R, Siegrist M. Public Health Nutr. 2010; 13:1099–106.Google Scholar
- Visschers, VHM, Siegrist M. When reduced fat causes increased preference: How fat reduction in nutrition tables and numeracy skills affect food choices. Appetite. In press, corrected proof, DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.09.001.Google Scholar