Supersizing Makes Consumers Feel More Important, Says Study

What's the real reason consumers like their meals supersized? They boost a person's sense of importance, according to a new study.

The report by David Dubois, Derek Rucker and Adam Galinsky, which appears in the most recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, suggests that people may associate larger foods with status, providing an alternate explanation for why Big Macs are so popular.

The three authors explain in the study:

Research has found that features of a product, such as size, can influence behavior by serving as cognitive shortcuts. For example, at a perceptual level, people believe taller glasses contain more liquid than shorter glasses. At a behavioral level, larger packages of familiar and branded products encourage more use than smaller packages, without consumers being aware that package size is affecting their consumption levels.

In one of their half dozen experiments, the researchers had study participants read two news articles, one explaining that "63 percent of the 1,000 most influential Americans are fit," and the other that "63 percent of the 1,000 most influential Americans are overweight." Afterward, participants were asked to pick a candy treat in one of five different-sized options. Those who read the article equating influence with obesity were more likely to choose a larger candy than their counterpart. The effect was especially pronounced in people primed to feel less powerful.

But there's hope for the supersizing public. In the same experiment as above, those who read the article equating fitness to influence were more likely to choose the smaller portion. The results suggest that people can be primed to choose healthier dining options, which may help curb the ongoing obesity epidemic.

Photo by Flickr user Näystin.