Call it a sight for sore eyes! People tend to believe that pretty-looking, “Instagrammable” versions of a food are healthier (e.g., have more nutrients, less fat) and more natural (e.g., are purer, less processed) than less attractive versions of the same food. This little nugget about food aesthetics comes to us from the University of Southern California. In a study published in the Journal of Marketing, USC researchers sought to determine whether attractive food might seem healthier to consumers.
In one test, participants read identical ingredient and price information for avocado toast, but some were randomly assigned to see a pretty presentation, while others saw an ugly version. Despite having identical information, respondents rated the pretty dish as more natural and more nutritious overall, compared with the ugly one.
When food is presented to us in a way that features classical aesthetic principles—order, symmetry and balance—it seems more “healthy” and “natural,” as well as worth spending more money on. In marketing materials and on social media, food aesthetics are frequently used to style food to look especially appetizing, which fires up our brain’s reward centers. But “pretty” food is not necessarily healthy, and judging a meal by how it looks can lead to poor food choices.
See also: Healthy Food: Seeing Is Believing
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