Duke University's Fuqua School of Business marketing doctoral student Peggy Liu and Fuqua marketing professor Gavan Fitzsimons led a team that conducted multiple experiments into how people choose between healthy and unhealthy food options when they are picking for both themselves and another person.
Liu said that they wanted to understand if food choices would change if they were picking a dish or snack for themselves and an average-sized person versus themselves and an overweight person.
In one of the studies, participants were asked to choose a snack option of either wheat crackers or chocolate chip cookies for themselves and a person they had just met.
In some cases, the recently introduced woman appeared as her normal size (wearing a size 0-2). In other situations, the woman was wearing a body suit that appeared to increase her weight by nearly 65 pounds (making her closer to a size 16).
Researchers discovered most participants (almost 60 percent) would choose the same snack for themselves and the woman when she appeared overweight. When the woman appeared her normal size, participants only choose the same snack about 30 percent of the time.
When picking for themselves and the overweight women, participants didn't overwhelmingly choose one particular snack over the other (about 30 percent chose cookies and about 30 percent selected wheat crackers).
The study has been published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.