Frances Chen

Associate Professor

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Meal choice modeling in a cafe: the roles of relationship, awareness, and familiarity (2017)

It is well established that the presence of other people affects how much people eat and the types of food they choose. Past research on food choice modeling has focused on snack foods and has primarily been conducted in controlled laboratory situations. The current research examines modeling of meal choice in a real-life context across two studies. Study 1 (N = 231 café patrons) tested whether meal choice modeling occurs, whether people are aware of being influenced, and whether knowing the model affects whether modeling occurs. The lunch orders of café patrons were surreptitiously tracked and participants were recruited after they paid for their lunch. Participants were asked whether they were influenced by the prior order, and what their relationship was to the person ahead of them in line. As hypothesized, participants modeled the lunch choice of the person ordering ahead of them in line above rates expected by chance. Contrary to predictions about the role of relationship, participants did not model at different rates following a stranger compared to a non-stranger. Hypotheses about modeling awareness were supported with a significant modeling effect observed even among participants who reported that their order was not influenced by the prior order. Study 2 (N = 69 students) tested familiarity to the café or social environment as a moderator. To increase variability in familiarity with the café, participants were students brought into the café for the study. Study 2 yielded inconclusive findings, possibly due to low statistical power. This research provided evidence of meal choice modeling occurring in real-life eating situations and outside of conscious awareness - demonstrating a powerful social influence on health behaviours.

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