Unit Bias Affects How Much We Eat
> 6/30/2008 3:52:00 PM


In June 2006, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania asked an interesting question: how do we choose to eat the amount of food that we eat? In studying Americans’ eating habits, they found that the answer to this question may have nothing to do with hunger or need. Their research, published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that a concept called “unit bias” often determines how much we eat.

Unit bias refers to our tendency to view a unit of something as an appropriate amount. We tend to eat what we view as a unit, independent of the actual size of an item of food or the number of servings it contains. When we want to eat a banana, for instance, we don’t first consider how hungry we are. We simply eat one banana. In the same way, a bag of chips seems like a reasonable amount to eat, but we often do not realize that the bag actually contains two servings. Still, by the time lunch is over, we have usually eaten the entire bag. Smaller portions may be the key to helping many avoid overeating.

Context holds great influence over behaviors, and unit bias, which has become a part of American society, may contribute to unhealthy eating habits and expanding waistlines of many Americans. Eating larger quantities of food leads to numerous health problems, thus we might be able to better regulate our waistlines by reversing the power of unit bias. When eating cereal: use a smaller bowl. When getting some juice: use a smaller cup. And when you pull down the cookie jar for dessert, don't take the whole container to the table. Instead, pull out the number that you know is a reasonable serving and then sit back down. This will prevent any temptation to munch mindlessly or put your hand back in the jar for any unncessary calories. Remembering the idea behind unit bias can be helpful for those interested in eating more healthy, or even those who want to have a better understanding of their eating habits.

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