Study: Supersizing is about feeling more important

America is home of the “supersize”, drink and food portions that to non-Americans defy any sense of what is normal or appropriate. Recent research suggests that many people may subconsciously buy giant packages and servings because doing so makes them feel more important.

That’s the conclusion of a study conducted by David Dubois, Derek Rucker and Adam Galinsky, featured in a recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. In a comprehensive assault on their subject, the three researchers (all with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management) used multiple lab and field experiments (involving a variety of drinks and snacks) to demonstrate conclusively that:

> People view others as having higher status when observing them choose the largest item among a set.

> People who feel less powerful are more likely to choose larger items than people who feel more powerful.

> This preference for larger items remains the same even when price is not a consideration.

> The preference for larger items is enhanced when we know people are watching us choose or consume.

> People who feel especially needful of a status bump prefer larger sizes when big is considered better.

The experiments themselves are worth diving into, if only to see the care taken by the researchers to ensure that they accounted for every reasonable doubt in their hypothesis. That is, they wanted to be certain that people don’t prefer supersize options simply because they’re perceiving those purchases as better deals.

So one of their experiments involved people choosing between larger and smaller free samples (was no obvious limit on number). Likewise, they wanted to understand whether hunger was a major factor in people going larger when choosing food or drink options, so one experiment involved the same amount of food (obvious to study participants) in different size containers.

In the end, no matter how they tested potential weaknesses in their theories the trio could not help but find significant results suggesting that one of the primary reasons many people are partial to supersize options is because we subconsciously feel better about ourselves when buying or consuming such options and/or we think such purchases elevate our status in the eyes of others.

In other words, we super size because it makes us feel superior—or at least a little better than we felt before.

Many, of course, will note that while the obesity problem in the US cuts across all socio-economic, ethnic and income levels, it’s especially prevalent among those in the bottom half of the income tables — and even more prevalent among women and non-college graduates in those ranks.

It’s not that far of a stretch to think that people who are less educated, paid less on average or are otherwise resource-challenged might be more vulnerable to purchase and consumption decisions based on a non-conscious idea that bigger/larger/more equals better/powerful/more important…..

Time Business: Read the full article

Journal Reference:

Super Size Me: Product Size as a Signal of Status

David Dubois, Derek D. Rucker and Adam D. Galinsky
Journal of Consumer Research
Vol. 38, No. 6 (April 2012), pp. 1047-1062
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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