Mindset and Portion Control

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
May 9, 2016

Do you know that how you feel about power and status can affect the portion sizes you choose? That’s the finding from a review of studies on psychological mindsets, conducted by researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

“Mindset” refers to the psychological orientation that influences how a person perceives and interprets situations, what aspects of a situation receive attention and how the person makes decisions. Lead study author Derek D. Ricker, PhD, a professor in the marketing department at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, explained to IDEA Fitness Journal, “Two people, despite having the same perceptual abilities, might encode and retrieve information about the world differently. As an example, a glass sitting on the table might be viewed as half empty by a pessimist, but half full by an optimist. The glass is the same, but how people process that stimulus differs. That’s what a mindset does to our psyche.”

Understanding the relationship between mindset and portion control can help when offering support to people who are trying to change behaviors. A person with a low-power mindset is more likely to make selections that reflect higher social status, whereas a person who feels powerful is less likely to let status influence the decision-making process. As this relates to portion size, people with a low-power mindset tend to consume more when they believe larger sizes have a higher status.

Power and powerlessness are not the only constructs influencing choice in general and portion control in particular. Other mindsets include fixed and growth mindsets and promotion and prevention mindsets. People with a growth mindset believe personal characteristics are changeable, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe that the self is fixed. Individuals with promotion mindsets focus on hopes, aspirations and ideals; those with prevention mindsets think about duties, obligations and “oughts.” Each of these orientations will affect how successful a person is in exercising self-control when tempted to overeat.

While studies are beginning to tease out the differences among mindsets, researchers have not yet evaluated how best to apply this understanding. Rucker added, “We are still very much exploring the power of mindsets. Much research is required to better understand how to activate mindsets and what makes them effective versus ineffective.”

The review appeared in Appetite (2016; doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.01.005).

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

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