In food choices everything matters. This is the premise of Brian Wansink and the Cornell Food and Brand Lab’s work. Their research has unveiled some of the many occasions in which environmental cues such as plate size, packaging, label claims and placement influence our eating. Terms such as "mindless eating" and "health halos" are also the fruit of Wansink’s team’s work.
Now, let’s think of lighting. We know if affects our mood: People may feel more optimistic on sunny days, and the light and color of interiors may affect the state-of-mind of those inhabiting brighter rooms.
The smell and the music in a restaurant affect our feeling and food choices. Could light be doing the same? A new study, to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research examined the food choices of diners in a series of experiments, and found that in well-lit rooms people were 16-24 percent more likely to order healthier food (grilled/baked fish, veggies) rather than unhealthy items (fried food or dessert). When the researchers looked at sales receipts they found that the caloric content of meals ordered in dim rooms was almost 40 percent higher.
The authors, led by Dipayan Biswas conclude:
“In terms of consumer wellbeing, dining in brightly lit ambient settings might be a good option if the goal is to enhance choice likelihood for healthy options. Since dim (vs. bright) ambient light reduces mental alertness level, dining in dimly lit environments might lead to greater likelihood of yielding to the temptation of going for the sumptuous, but unhealthy, chocolate dessert.”
According to this study, a dimmer switch may influence the food choices – and the bottom-line – in a dining establishment.
But then, being alert and cognizant when we select food would make us less vulnerable to environmental manipulations. Mindfulness and food knowledge could shine a permanent, independent light on our choices.