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CASE CHAPTER 7: ELEMENTS OF RESEARCH DESIGN
THE EFFECT OF CALORIE INFORMATION ON FOOD CONSUMPTION
The (over)consumption of calories is one of the most important determinants of the obesity
problem in Europe and the United States. Governments promote the consumption of healthy
alternatives and try to support consumers in making healthy choices, for instance by the
introduction of the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) in the United States. The
NLEA requires manufacturers to provide nutrition information on the packaging of food
products. In a similar vein, the European Commission is working on an updated version of its
regulation on food labeling, issued in December 2006. This regulation defines specific
nutritional profiles which the food industry must comply with in order to bear nutrition or
health claims. Hence, governments want to make sure that consumers get reliable
information on food and eventually make more healthy choices. Despite these efforts, the
obesity problem continues to increase in the United States and Europe.
Jonathan Wilson is a business student at Tilburg University. He has been interested in the
overconsumption of food ever since he has read Brian Wansink’s famous study with the
“bottomless bowls.” For this study, Wansink brought in 60 people for a free lunch and gave
22 ounce bowls of soup to half, while the other half unknowingly got 22 ounce bowls that
automatically refilled as they ate (by an unseen tube under the table). The result: those eating
from the bottomless bowls thought they’d eaten the same amount as people with regular
bowls. They actually consumed 73% more soup. “The lesson is, don’t rely on your stomach to
tell you when you’re full. It can lie,” Wansink reacted to the results of this study.
Together with his thesis supervisor, Donald Driver, Jonathan has developed a series of studies
on the effects of Nutrition Labels on people’s attitudes toward the product, buying intentions,
and the perceived healthiness of food products. The purpose of his latest study was to
determine how the provision of objective calorie information on healthy food items
influences people’s experience of hunger.
Jonathan has developed a first draft of the method section of this study, which is detailed
next. The method section of a paper provides the methods and procedures used in a research
The experiment: predictions
We compared hunger ratings between participants who sampled a healthy food item with
calorie information versus participants who sampled a healthy food item without calorie
information versus a “no sample” condition. We predicted that those who eat a healthy
food item in the calorie information condition will subsequently report that they feel
hungrier compared to those who eat a healthy food item in the no calorie information
condition or those who do not eat the sample.
Participants and design. 90 undergraduate students (38 women) from Tilburg University
were randomly assigned to the conditions of a 3 (food sample: healthy with calorie
information vs. healthy without calorie information vs. no-sample) between-subjects
design. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 37, with a median age of 22. The
students received financial compensation (7 €) for their participation.
Procedure and Materials. Participants in the sampling conditions were recruited to
participate in a taste test of a Muesli/granola bar that was unwrapped and contained no
identifying information. Participants in the no-sample condition were invited to
participate in a marketing study rating the appearance of the bar. We asked all the
participants in the sampling conditions to taste a sample of the same bar. In the healthy
food item with calorie information condition, participants read that they were about to
taste “a new health bar containing 78 calories, high levels of vitamins and fiber, and no
artificial sweeteners.” In the healthy food item without calorie information condition,
participants read that they were about to taste “a new health bar containing high levels
of vitamins and fiber, and no artificial sweeteners.” Participants in these conditions then
had a 10 gram sample of the bar. Those in the no-sample condition did not complete the
Next, in order to assess the strength of the motive to fulfill their appetite, all participants
rated how hungry they were at the present moment (7-point scale; 1 = not at all hungry,
7 = very hungry). Those in the no-sample condition rated their hunger but did not
complete the taste test beforehand. After providing their hunger rating, they continued
to rate how appealing they thought the bar was.
1. Is the purpose of Jonathan’s study exploratory in nature, descriptive, or is it to test hypotheses? Explain.
2a. What is the difference between a causal and a correlational study? 2b. Is Jonathan’s study causal or correlational in nature? 3. There are various degrees of interference in research – minimal, moderate, and
excessive interference. To what extent does Jonathan interfere with the normal flow of events in his study?
4a. Discuss the differences between a field study, a field experiment, and a lab experiment.
4b. What type of study is Jonathan’s study? Is it a field study, a field experiment, or a lab experiment? Explain.
5. What is the ‘unit of analysis’ of Jonathan’s study? 6. Is Jonathan’s study cross-sectional or longitudinal in nature? 7. Discuss the interrelationships between the purpose of Jonathan’s study, the nature of
his study in terms of correlational/causal, Jonathan’s interference with the normal flow of events, and the type of study in terms of field study, field experiment, and lab experiment.
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