Seeing a Meal is Not Eating It: Hedonic Context Effects Differ for Visually Presented and Actually Eaten Foods

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A meal usually consists of several different foods presented together. This study investigates how side dishes (vegetables/starches) affect the hedonic ratings of the main food item (meat/meat substitute) when a plate of these foods is viewed and also after the meal is eaten. The main question is whether the hedonic rating of the main food item assimilates toward the hedonic rating of the side dishes or shows contrast, moving away from the hedonic rating of the side dishes. In Experiment 1, when subjects only viewed a picture of a meal consisting of an imitation chicken tender (main food item) with either hedonically positive or hedonically negative side dishes, no effect of the side dishes was seen on the hedonic rating of the main food item. In Experiment 2, when subjects ate the meal shown in the picture in Experiment 1, hedonic contrast was found. That is, the main food item was rated as less good when simultaneously presented with more hedonically positive side dishes than when presented with hedonically negative side dishes. Thus, when a meal is eaten, foods influence the evaluation of other foods on the same plate. The same is not true when foods are presented in a picture.



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