12 January - 20 June 2016

Recency bias in memory may determine when a food is consumed again

18 June 14

According to new research published in Psychological Science, our last memories of eating a particular food may be more important than our first in determining when we want to eat it again.

As part of the study, the researchers at Stanford University in the US asked 134 undergraduate students to sample 3 flavours of crackers, and afterwards choose which one to eat. They were then given a specific number of crackers and, after eating each one, asked to rate how much they enjoyed it. The result was that the students who had eaten the larger portion of crackers reported significantly lower enjoyment at the end than those who had eaten the smaller portion of crackers. As we tend to enjoy food less and less as we continue eating it, this suggests that when looking back on their overall enjoyment, it was the last bites that the participants remembered most vividly. The participants' enjoyment of the last cracker also seemed to influence how soon they wanted to eat the crackers again.

These results suggest that the most recent tastes experienced in the last few bites of a given food drive our decisions about when to eat it again. The researchers hypothesized that this so-called 'recency effect' might be explained by memory interference induced by the repetitiveness of eating, so that if we consume many bites of the same food in succession, our memory for the last may interfere with our ability to accurately remember the initial experience of the food.

The findings help elucidate the role of memory in delay until repeated consumption, demonstrate how sensory-specific satiety and portion sizes influence future consumption, and suggest one process by which recency effects may influence judgements and decisions based on past experiences. However, the authors caution that more research is needed to determine whether the findings translate to real-world settings, in which consumers have more control over deciding what and how much they eat. [Psychological Science News Release]

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