When it comes to candy, it is out of sight, out of the mouth, a Cornell University researcher finds.
The study finds that women eat more than twice as many Hershey Kisses when they are in clear containers on their desks than when they are in opaque containers on their desks -- but fewer when they are six feet away.
"Interestingly, however, we found that participants consistently underestimated their intake of the candies on their desks yet overestimated how much they ate when the candies were farther away," said Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and of Applied Economics at Cornell.
The study -- one of the few experiments to quantify the "temptation factor" -- was presented at the Obesity Society meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity in September in Vancouver, Canada. It is published online and will be published in an upcoming February issue of the International Journal of Obesity.
Wansink and his co-authors, James E. Painter and Yeon-Kyung Lee, assistant professor and visiting scholar, respectively, in food science at the University of Illinois-Champaign, gave 40 university female staff and faculty members 30 chocolate Kisses in either clear or opaque candy jars on their desks or six feet away. Each night, the researchers counted how many candies were eaten and refilled the jars.
"Not surprisingly, the participants ate fewer candies when the Kisses were in opaque rather than clear candy jars on their desks and even fewer when the opaque jars were six feet away from their desks," Wansink said. "The less visible and less convenient the candy, the less people thought about it and were tempted."
Specifically, participants ate an average of 7.7 Kisses each day when the chocolates were in clear containers on their desks; 4.6 when in opaque containers on the desk; 5.6 when in clear jars six feet away; and 3.1 when in opaque jars six feet away.
What was surprising, however, was that the women consistently thought they ate more when they had to get up to get them. This suggests, Wansink said, that you are likely to eat fewer cookies in the cupboard versus those on the counter for two reasons. They take more effort to get, and you tend to think you ate more than you did.
"You eat more chocolate if it's visibly nearby, but the silver lining is this might also work for fruits and vegetables -- in other words, what makes the close candy dish nutritionally dangerous might just bring the fruit bowl back in vogue," he concluded.
Wansink, the author of the new book "Marketing Nutrition: Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology and Obesity," is also director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, made up of a group of interdisciplinary researchers who have conducted more than 200 studies on the psychology behind what people eat and how often they eat it.