Subtle reminders of platonic love rather than sexual love may help foster healthy food choices, found researchers.
Symbols of platonic love evoke feelings of commitment and caring that are long-term, whereas sexual love tends to evoke feelings of passion and romance that have a relatively short life span, said David Raska, a Northern Kentucky marketing professor who was lead author of the study.
And those feelings can affect food choices. Subtle signals of commitment may lead consumers to unwittingly choose healthier snack foods, according to the researchers at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, who tested their hypothesis on college students.
Between 45 and 97 students completed three experiments. In the first, they were randomly assigned to view one of three snack menus on a computer screen. Each menu had one of three possible backgrounds: hearts, kisses or a blank white screen.
The students were then asked to imagine they had 75 cents and were about to choose a snack from one of the vending machines on campus. They were prompted to indicate which snack they would choose.
Roughly 70 percent of students exposed to the platonic love symbol - the hearts - clicked on a healthy snack, such as an apple or a box of raisins, while only 49 percent of students exposed to the kisses chose a healthy snack. Students assigned to the blank screen background made similar snack choices to the ones selected by students who saw the kisses.
In the second experiment, researchers chose more-complex symbols of passion and commitment. Photos of Marilyn Monroe and Abraham Lincoln popped up on the computer screen before the menu of snack choices. Sixty percent of participants exposed to Honest Abe choose a healthy snack when prompted by the computer, compared with fewer than 30 percent of those exposed to a scantily clad Monroe.
Since all the study participants were students, it's unclear from this study whether the same subtle cues would have had similar effects on people of different ages or professions.
It's also not clear whether decisions regarding more costly food choices, such as ordering a meal in a restaurant or buying groceries for a family, would be affected by such subtle symbols, said the researchers.
Still, the results suggest that people don't necessarily make food choices in a vacuum.
"Surrounding ourselves with little reminders - images of family and good friends in our work spaces and on our cellphones, for instance - may help us to adopt a more holistic view of our lives that will drive us to make food choices that are good for us in the long term," said Raska.