Why consumers think pretty food is healthier?

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Washington: Researcher from the University of Southern California published a new paper that explores whether attractive food might seem healthier to consumers. The study forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing is titled “Pretty Healthy Food: How and When Aesthetics Enhance Perceived Healthiness” and is authored by Linda Hagen.

Consumers see almost 7,000 food and restaurant advertisements per year, with the vast majority touting fast food. In marketing materials, food is extensively styled to look especially pretty. Imagine the beautiful pizza you might see on a billboard — a perfect circle of crust with flawlessly allocated pepperoni and melted cheese. Advertisers clearly aim to make the food more appetizing. But do pretty aesthetics have other, potentially problematic, effects on your impressions of food?

In a series of experiments, the researcher tested if the same food is perceived as healthier when it looks pretty by following classical aesthetics principles (i.e., symmetry, order, and systematic patterns) compared to when it does not. For example, in one experiment, participants evaluated avocado toast.

Everyone read identical ingredient and price information, but people were randomly assigned to see either a pretty avocado toast or an ugly avocado toast (the pictures had previously been, on average, rated as differentially pretty). Despite identical information about the food, respondents rated the avocado toast as overall healthier (e.g., healthier, more nutritious, fewer calories) and more natural (e.g., purer, less processed) if they saw the pretty version compared to the ugly version.

As suspected, the difference in naturalness judgments drove the difference in healthiness judgments. Judgments of other aspects, like freshness or size, were unaffected. Experiments with different foods and prettiness manipulations returned the same pattern of results, suggesting that the effect is unlikely idiosyncratic to certain pictures.