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The office candy dish: A beast that renders humans powerless

Research shows that people will eat food if it's around, regardless of hunger level.

Jennifer Guevin Managing Editor / Reviews
Jennifer Guevin is managing editor at CNET, overseeing the ever-helpful How To section, special packages, and front-page programming. As a writer, she gravitates toward science, quirky geek culture stories, robots, and food. In real life, she mostly just gravitates toward food.
Jennifer Guevin
2 min read

It might be time to stow away that candy dish--and, for that matter, the cookie jar, gumball dispenser and bowl of nuts--because we humans are powerless to resist such things, according to a recent CNN article featuring research taking place at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.

A book by Cornell researcher Brian Wansink says people will basically eat whatever food is in front of them. The book, called Mindless Eating, says that when it comes to overeating, convenience and visibility are bigger factors than how good food looks or how hungry a person is.

"We can say 'no' 27 times, but if (food is) visible, the 28th or 29th time, we start saying, 'maybe.' By time 30, 31, we start saying, 'What the heck? I'm hungry,'" Wansink said in the article.

Wansink's research includes a few interesting studies of people's eating habits when snack foods were nearby. Most frightening is that he says knowing about these trends doesn't make it any easier to break them. In one study, Wansink gave graduate students a 90-minute lecture about the tendency to overeat when food is served in large containers, then secretly watched them overeat at a Super Bowl party six weeks later. Considering that I sat at my desk eating piece after piece of beef jerky while reading this article (immediately after eating lunch, mind you), I think he may be onto something. And I think that bag of jerky might move to our office's communal food table--and out of my sight--about as soon as I hit "Publish".

Given this new insight, if you happen to come upon a giant bowl of munchies, my best advice is to treat it like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, i.e., wrap a towel around your head. Maybe the dreaded snacks will think if you can't see them, they can't draw you in with their mystical powers.

For those interested in food consumption habits, Cornell's food and brand site features abstracts and full text of several studies they've done, such as: that the shape of the glass you use can affect how much you drink, how descriptions on menus can affect how often dishes are ordered and how fat and carbohydrate intake can vary depending on whether restaurant-goers are served butter vs. olive oil with their bread.

(Via Slashfood)