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Peer Pressure Affects Food Consumption, Study Finds

Update Date: Jul 08, 2014 10:41 AM EDT

People can be greatly influenced by others when it comes to buying certain food products, a recent study reported. According to researchers from Cornell University, peer pressure affects mothers' attitudes toward certain ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup.

"We discovered multiple motivating factors behind ingredient avoidance," said co-author, Aner Tal. "Some individuals may have a greater need for social approval among their reference group and so choose or avoid products as a social display, a phenomenon known as the Prius Effect. Just as purchasing a Prius signals a certain set of beliefs to one's friends or peers, expressing a negative attitude toward certain foods or ingredients could simultaneously allow one to express both self- and group-identity."

For this study, the researchers interviewed 1,008 mothers regarding their attitudes toward different ingredients used in food products. The researchers examined how the Prius Effect influenced the women's stances on certain food products. They found that women who were more likely to succumb to epicurean peer pressure were also more likely to agree with the negative statements related to certain ingredients.

"High fructose corn syrup avoiders expressed a stronger belief that the ingredient gives you headaches, is dangerous for children, cannot be digested, is bad for skin, makes one sluggish and changes one's palate," the researchers reported according to Medical Xpress.

The researchers discovered that the fear or avoidance of these products became greater when the products were less nutritious. However, the team found that changing the women's perceptions of these ingredients was relatively easy. When the researchers renamed high fructose corn syrup to just corn sugar or table sugar, the women were less likely to avoid or shun the product. Women were also more open to ingredients if they learned about the ingredients' background and functions.

"To overcome food ingredient fears, learn the science, history and the process of how the ingredient is made, and you'll be a smarter, savvier consumer," said Food and Brand Lab Director and lead author of the report, Brian Wansink.

The study, "Ingredient-based Food Fears and Avoidance," was published in the journal, Food Quality and Preference.

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