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The impact of instructed mental simulation on wanting and choice between vice and virtue food products

Muñoz-Vilches, Naomí C., van Trijp, Hans C.M., Piqueras-Fiszman, Betina
Food quality and preference 2019 v.73 pp. 182-191
food choices, foods, image analysis
Deciding what to eat often implies a conflict between immediate goals (I need to eat, ideally something enjoyable) and long-term goals (I need to be healthy), particularly when choosing between foods superior on a hedonic dimension (referred to as vices) and foods superior on an utilitarian dimension (referred to as virtues). One sort of intervention that could potentially shift balance between short-term and long-term consequences is instructed mental simulation. Mental simulations could be characterised as images or can be embodied, as a complete experience, including body sensations, feelings and images. We examine systematic differences in two types of instructed mental simulation: imagining the moment of consumption (process) and post-consumption (outcome), and emphasise the importance of product type (vice, virtue) on its effect on wanting and choice. In a within-subject experiment, 76 participants were allocated to the two mental simulation conditions (happening in different sessions) and imagined consuming or having consumed a vice and a virtue product. After imagining each product, the participants rated their level of wanting and indicated the product they preferred: the vice or the virtue one. The results showed that imagining the consumption of the vice product or the post-consumption of the virtue product increased the rate of wanting for the correspondent product, the same pattern was found for preferences. Furthermore, results showed that health orientation moderated the effect of mental simulation on wanting and choice. Further knowledge in different simulation types may have important implications for understanding how we represent food in our mind and help with the development of effective communicational interventions that nudge people towards healthier food choices.