Portion size me: plate-size induced consumption norms and win-win solutions for reducing food intake and waste

J Exp Psychol Appl. 2013 Dec;19(4):320-32. doi: 10.1037/a0035053.


Research on the self-serving of food has empirically ignored the role that visual consumption norms play in determining how much food we serve on different sized dinnerware. We contend that dinnerware provides a visual anchor of an appropriate fill-level, which in turn, serves as a consumption norm (Study 1). The trouble with these dinnerware-suggested consumption norms is that they vary directly with dinnerware size--Study 2 shows Chinese buffet diners with large plates served 52% more, ate 45% more, and wasted 135% more food than those with smaller plates. Moreover, education does not appear effective in reducing such biases. Even a 60-min, interactive, multimedia warning on the dangers of using large plates had seemingly no impact on 209 health conference attendees, who subsequently served nearly twice as much food when given a large buffet plate 2 hr later (Study 3). These findings suggest that people may have a visual plate-fill level--perhaps 70% full--that they anchor on when determining the appropriate consumption norm and serving themselves. Study 4 suggests that the Delboeuf illusion offers an explanation why people do not fully adjust away from this fill-level anchor and continue to be biased across a large range of dishware sizes. These findings have surprisingly wide-ranging win-win implications for the welfare of consumers as well as for food service managers, restaurateurs, packaged goods managers, and public policy officials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cooking and Eating Utensils*
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Portion Size / psychology*
  • Restaurants
  • Size Perception
  • Young Adult