Researchers have revealed that consumers who feel powerless try to increase their social standing by eating too much.
In one of the authors' experiments, they confirmed that consumers equate larger sizes of food options with greater status. For example, participants perceived that consumers who chose a large coffee had more status than someone who chose medium or small, even when the price was the same.
In other experiments, powerless consumers chose larger pieces of bagels than baseline participants. And the authors found that participants chose larger smoothies when they were at a social event than when they were alone.
"An ongoing trend in food consumption is consumers' tendency to eat more and more," write authors David Dubois (HEC Paris), Derek D. Rucker, and Adam D. Galinsky (both Northwestern University).
"Even more worrisome, the increase in food consumption is particularly prevalent among vulnerable populations such as lower socio-economic status consumers."
But there is hope for our expanding waistlines, according to the authors. When powerless participants in one study were told that smaller hors d'oeuvres were served at prestigious events, they chose smaller items that had fewer calories.
"Understanding and monitoring the size-to-status relationship of food options within an assortment is an important tool at the disposal of policy makers to effectively fight against overconsumption," the authors conclude.
The study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.