Mechanisms underlying the portion-size effect

Physiol Behav. 2015 May 15:144:129-36. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.03.025. Epub 2015 Mar 20.


The portion-size effect (PSE) refers to the fact that people eat more when served larger portions. This effect is neither obvious nor artifactual. We examine the prevailing explanations (or underlying mechanisms) that have been offered for the PSE. The dominant candidate mechanism is "appropriateness"; that is, people accept the portion that they are served as being of an appropriate size and eat accordingly. Because people do not necessarily finish the portion that they are served, variations on the basic appropriateness mechanism have been suggested. We also consider some evidence that is inconsistent with an appropriateness explanation, including the appearance of the PSE in children as young as two years of age. We also examine other mechanisms that do not rely on appropriateness norms. Visual food cues may assist in assessing appropriateness but may also drive food intake in a more mindless fashion. Larger portions induce larger bites, which may increase intake by reducing oral exposure time and sensory-specific satiety. We consider further research questions that could help to clarify the mechanisms underlying the PSE.

Keywords: Appropriateness; Bite size; Food intake; Portion size; Visual cues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cues
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Portion Size / psychology*