Positive Peer Pressure: Friends Help Friends Eat Healthier
Peer pressure can be a good thing if you are trying to clean up your diet. A new study finds that restaurant patrons who order as a group tend to select items from the same menu categories, so eating with healthy friends means you are more likely to do the same.
Brenna Ellison, a food economist from the University of Illinois, and colleagues spent three months undercover at an Oklahoma restaurant where the manager agreed to modify the menu and dining sections for an experiment. One menu contained regular pricing and items, a second included calorie counts for each meal, and a third had calorie counts plus a “stoplight” symbol making quick reference for the nutritional value (ie: Green indicated a caloric range of 0-400 while red symbolized a meal with 800 calories or more).
At the end of the day, those ordering from the “traffic light” menu tended to order items that were in the low caloric range. The tendency was especially pronounced in receipts from larger groups, indicating a certain degree of “peer pressure.” As a bonus, those patrons who ordered something outside of their norm because they wanted to fit in found that they actually enjoyed their selection.
Ellison says that even when people want to be individuals, they don’t want to stick out in a crowd. “We want to fit in with the people we’re dining with,” she says. “It goes against the expectation that people will exhibit variety-seeking behavior; we don't want to be that different from others."
"Given this finding, we thought it would almost be better to nudge people toward healthier friends than healthier foods," Ellison concludes.
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Reference: Ellison, Brenna and Lusk, Jayson L., (2013), “I’ll Have What He’s Having”: Group Ordering Behavior in Food Choice Decisions, No 150266, 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C., Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.