Tasting in 2D: implications of food shape, visual cues, and oral haptic sensory inputs
Courtney Szocs1 & Dipayan Biswas2 # Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015
Abstract Marketers often vary the shape and dimensions of food products. But could changing the shape (e.g., molding food into cubes or rectangular prisms) or altering the dimensions (e.g., cutting food into thicker or thinner pieces) have unintended consequences in terms of influencing consumers’ size perceptions, calorie estimates, or desired consumption volume of the food? Research related to visual inputs and the elongation bias would suggest that thicker and cube-shaped foods would be perceived as larger and higher in calories; however, research related to oral haptic sensory inputs (i.e., the way the food feels in the mouth) would suggest that thinner and rectangular shaped foods would be perceived as larger and higher in calories. We test these competing predictions in a series of three experimental studies and find support for the oral haptic-based hypothesis. Conceptual and managerial implications are discussed.
Keywords Oral haptics . Food . Visual . Sensorymarketing . Size perception
Foods come in a variety of shapes and with different dimensions. Often, even the same food item comes in multiple shapes. For instance, Kellogg’s molds the same set of ingredients into various shapes and sells them as more than a dozen varieties of different themed fruit snacks (e.g., Cars, Disney Princesses) (Kellogg’s 2011). Ore
Ida takes a somewhat different approach and uses the same basic shape (a rectangular prism) for many of their French fry products but alters the dimensions (i.e., length, width, height/thickness) of classic BGolden^ fries, to create thinner BShoe String^ fries, and thicker BSteak^ fries (Ore 2013). As these examples suggest, marketers offer food in a variety of different shapes and with varying dimensions.
DOI 10.1007/s11002-015-9378-6 * Courtney Szocs firstname.lastname@example.org
Dipayan Biswas email@example.com 1 Portland State University, Portland, OR 97201, USA 2 University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620, USA
In this research, we examine whether altering the dimensions of a food (making it thinner vs. thicker), and therefore changing the shape, can have unintended consequences in terms of influencing consumers’ food size perceptions, calorie estimates, and desired consumption volume. For instance, suppose a consumer is offered a piece of chocolate that is shaped like a cube versus an equal-volume chocolate with different dimensions (due to different levels of thickness) that is shaped like a rectangular prism.
Which of these chocolates will be perceived as being larger? How would the different shapes/dimensionalities influence the number of calories a consumer estimates the chocolate to have or the number of chocolate pieces the consumer desires to eat?
From prior research, the answers to these questions are not clear. Changing the shape of a food not only influences visual aspects related to the appearance of the food (Sevilla and Kahn 2014) but can also potentially influence oral haptic aspects related to the way the food is perceived in the mouth (Biswas et al. 2014). Studies which examine the role of different sensory inputs in size evaluations have typically varied the shape or dimensionality of a container or package (Krishna 2006; Krider et al. 2001; Raghubir and Krishna 1999). A common finding in this work is that visual cues play a dominant role in size perceptions with the most salient visual dimension driving evaluations (Krider et al. 2001; Krishna 2006; Raghubir and Krishna 1999). However as mentioned earlier, in these prior studies the manipulated shape was associated with a container or package, so the primary sensory inputs used in size evaluations were visual and manual haptic inputs (i.e., touch with the hand). In contrast, in the present research, the manipulated shape is associated with the food product itself; consequently, oral haptic sensory inputs or the way the food is perceived in the mouth (Biswas et al. 2014) would also be involved in size evaluations.
Given that there is evidence which suggests that manual haptic perception is different from oral haptic perception (Topolinski and Pereira 2012) and that oral haptics can systematically influence consumers’ perceptions of food (Biswas et al. 2014), it becomes important to understand how oral haptics related to food shape/dimensionality might influence consumers’ judgements and decisions. To summarize, while prior research has explored the integration of visual and manual haptic inputs in size evaluations of different shaped packages/ containers (e.g., Krishna 2006; Raghubir and Krishna 1999), the integration of visual and oral haptic inputs in size evaluations has not been studied.
Next, we discuss two different theoretical models which would make competing predictions about how food shape/dimensionality will influence perceived size. 1 Theoretical background
It is important to clarify exactly what we mean by length, width, and height/thickness in the context of food dimensionality. For noncircular foods, we define length and width as the two dimensions of the food that would be parallel to the surface of the tongue when the food is placed in the mouth. The product of the length and width dimensions would determine the surface area of the food that interacts with the tongue. We refer to height/thickness of a sampled food as the dimension that is perpendicular to the tongue’s surface when the food is placed in the mouth.
Mark Lett 1.1 Visual and manual haptic sensory inputs and size perceptions
While we are not aware of any work examining the integration of visual and oral haptic inputs in size evaluations of different shaped foods, prior work examining the integration of visual and manual haptic inputs in size evaluations of containers/serving aides and packages shows that visual inputs tend to play a critical role in evaluations often to the extent that size evaluations are subject to visual biases (Krider et al. 2001; Krishna 2006; Raghubir and Krishna 1999).