People often choose the unhealthy food because they think it is tastier. Aiming for solutions promoting healthy eating practices and ultimately combating obesity, this research shows that the presence of a mirror in a consumption setting can reduce the perceived tastiness of unhealthy food, which consequently reduces its consumption.
In a taste test study, 185 undergraduate students chose between a chocolate cake and a fruit salad and then evaluated its taste in a room with a mirror or with no mirrors around. Those who selected the chocolate cake evaluated it less tasty in the room with a mirror compared to those with no mirrors around. However, the presence of a mirror did not change the taste of the fruit salad.
Lead researcher Ata Jami of the University of Central Florida explains, "A glance in the mirror tells people more than just about their physical appearance. It enables them to view themselves objectively and helps them to judge themselves and their behaviors in a same way that they judge others." He found that mirrors can push people to compare and match their behaviors with social standards of correctness. Accordingly, when one fails to follow the standards, he/she does not want to look at a mirror because it enhances the discomfort of the failure. Thus, the presence of a mirror induces a discomfort and lowers the perceived taste of the unhealthy food. This only holds true if the food is selected by the diner because then he/she feels responsible for the food choice. Eating healthy does not induce any discomfort and, as a result, mirror does not change the taste of healthy food.
This research suggests that placing a mirror in dining rooms and other eating spaces so that diners can see themselves eat, can be an effective way for individuals and restaurants to encourage healthier eating practices.
This article is published in the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research entitled "The Behavioral Science of Eating." This issue has been edited by Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum of the University of Groningen.