The study – published in Appetite – investigated how different forms of advertising and messages about chocolate impact young women’s perception and orientation towards the chocolate products and their immediate consumption of it.
Led by Professor Kevin Durkin from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, the team found that when consumers were given an opportunity to eat chocolate, women with high ‘restraint’ scores – such as those on a diet – but who had been exposed to the thin models, consumed the most.
“Exposure to thin ideal models led to higher approach motives and this effect was most marked among the high restraint participants,” said Durkin and his team.
They also found the women had a strong impulse to consume chocolate when presented with negative messaging – including warnings that chocolate could lead to obesity.
Durkin and his colleagues suggested that this finding may be explained by the fact that consumers who are generally more restrained perceive themselves as comparable to the ‘thin ideal models’ and therefore allow themselves a “a temporary relaxation of eating restrictions”.
“From a chocolate advertiser’s perspective, exploitation of young women’s vulnerability to the thin ideal has some attractions,” said the researchers. “Especially among restrained eaters, this kind of imagery might be among the most conducive to temptation.”
Durkin and his team compared female consumers’ attitudes to – and consumption of – chocolate following exposure to images containing thin or overweight models together with written messages that were either positive or negative about eating chocolate.
“We expected that the exposure to chocolate with thin models should be the most potent stimulus,” suggested the researchers.
Indeed Durkin and team found that this was the case: “As predicted, images containing thin ideal models appeared to be influential in promoting approach motives.”
“When the participants were provided with an opportunity to eat some chocolate, those with high restraint who had been exposed to the thin models consumed the most.”
Durkin said the findings are consistent with the theoretical assumption that orientations towards chocolate are ambivalent.
“This is most evident among the high restraint participants,” the researchers wrote.
“Why might images of thin ideal women with chocolate promote chocolate consumption among restrained eaters?” questioned Durkin and his team.
“On first sight, this appears paradoxical,” they said. However they added that previous research has found ‘restrained eaters are susceptible to a thin fantasy brought about by viewing ideal body images’.
“These researchers found that, after looking at very thin models, restrained eaters reported not only that they desired to be thinner but that they perceived themselves to be thinner,” explained the researchers.
“Because this results in feeling that they are closer to reaching their ideal form, they experience a reduction in the pressure to maintain their regimens,” suggest the team. “In essence, if a person regards herself as having become thinner, she may feel that she can afford a temporary relaxation of eating restrictions.”
Volume 60, 1 January 2013, Pages 95–102, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.09.025
“Mixed selection. Effects of body images, dietary restraint, and persuasive messages on females’ orientations towards chocolate”
Authors: Kevin Durkin, Alana Hendry, Werner G.K. Stritzke