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Are large portions always bad? Using the Delboeuf illusion on food packaging to nudge consumer behavior


  • Olivia Petit

    () (KEDGE Business School)

  • Carlos Velasco

    (BI Norwegian Business School)

  • Charles Spence

    (Department of Experimental Psychology)


Exaggerated portion sizes are generally pictured on the front of product packaging in order to stimulate food craving and encourage consumer purchasing decisions. However, one problem with such images is that they can set inappropriate norms as far as food consumption is concerned and hence result in people serving themselves more than they otherwise might. The research reported here builds on the fact that depicting a food portion in a smaller (vs. larger) container (i.e., plate or bowl) creates the illusion of a larger (vs. smaller) portion, although the actual quantity of food remains the same (this is known as the Delboeuf illusion). Here, we demonstrate in two experiments that by presenting food in a smaller container (thus giving rise to the illusion of a relatively larger portion), participants have higher purchase intentions (study 1) and perceive the food as being more appetizing (study 2) but, crucially, decrease the size of the portion that they serve themselves (studies 1 and 2). Overall, by giving the impression of a larger portion on product packaging, the Delboeuf illusion could potentially be used to nudge consumers to find food more desirable, while at the same time leading them to reduce their serving, thus potentially benefitting both consumers and the food industry.

Suggested Citation

  • Olivia Petit & Carlos Velasco & Charles Spence, 2018. "Are large portions always bad? Using the Delboeuf illusion on food packaging to nudge consumer behavior," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 29(4), pages 435-449, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:mktlet:v:29:y:2018:i:4:d:10.1007_s11002-018-9473-6
    DOI: 10.1007/s11002-018-9473-6

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ryan S. Elder & Aradhna Krishna, 2012. "The "Visual Depiction Effect" in Advertising: Facilitating Embodied Mental Simulation through Product Orientation," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(6), pages 988-1003.
    2. Petit, Olivia & Spence, Charles & Velasco, Carlos & Woods, Andy T. & Cheok, Adrian D., 2017. "Changing the influence of portion size on consumer behavior via imagined consumption," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 75(C), pages 240-248.
    3. Hu Xie & Elizabeth A. Minton & Lynn R. Kahle, 2016. "Cake or fruit? Influencing healthy food choice through the interaction of automatic and instructed mental simulation," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 27(4), pages 627-644, December.
    4. Stephen S. Holden & Natalina Zlatevska & Chris Dubelaar, 2016. "Whether Smaller Plates Reduce Consumption Depends on Who's Serving and Who's Looking: A Meta-Analysis," Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 134-146.
    5. Koert Van Ittersum & Brian Wansink, 2012. "Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion's Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 39(2), pages 215-228.
    6. Olivia Petit & Frédéric Basso & Dwight Merunka & Charles Spence & Adrian David Cheok & Olivier Oullier, 2016. "Pleasure and the Control of Food Intake: An Embodied Cognition Approach to Consumer Self-Regulation," Post-Print hal-01822323, HAL.
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    Cited by:

    1. Petit, Olivia & Lunardo, Renaud & Rickard, Bradley, 2020. "Small is beautiful: The role of anticipated food waste in consumers’ avoidance of large packages," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 326-336.


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