Study of the Day: What That Venti Coffee Really Says About You

More

New research shows that consumers who select super-sized portions do so to get more power and status -- and that we fall for this trick most of the time

mains Ryan Tir 4534245018_a97c865879_o.jpg

PROBLEM: Many cultural norms associate larger products with greater status, and this is perhaps no more noticeable than in the food domain. The trouble is, the tendency to over-consume leads to obesity and other serious health risks, especially among consumers of lower socioeconomic status.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers David Dubois, Derek D. Rucker, and Adam D. Galinsky conducted six experiments to understand the relationship between portion size, status, and consumption. In one trial, 183 participants were asked to judge another consumer on several attributes, including status, after this consumer selected the largest options available for a set of mundane products, such as a smoothie, pizza, or coffee. To control for the effect of price, the researchers used scenarios where the products were either similarly priced or free.

RESULTS: Participants judged other consumers as having a higher status when they selected the biggest product within a set with small and medium alternatives. This positive attribution was unique to perceived status and did not affect other social judgments. In other experiments, consumers who felt powerless and alone chose larger portions than participants in the control group.

CONCLUSION: Retail therapy is real. Consumers who feel socially insecure will purchase more food to gain status, which other people do tend to afford them.

IMPLICATION: Whether for food or for clothes, it's best to buy with a smile.

SOURCE: The full study, "Super Size Me: Product Size as a Signal of Status," is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Image: Ryan Tir/Flickr.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In