Image Order Tricks Minds To Think Cake Is Healthier Than Fruit Salad

Was Eisenstein into calorie counting? A new study finds that if you see a “bad for you” food item after seeing a “good for you” item, you will estimate the calories in it as being much higher than if you see two “bad for you” items back to back.

In the experiment, when researchers showed subjects a picture of a cheesesteak, they guessed on average that it had 578 calories. When shown a fruit salad followed by a cheesesteak, the subjects’ calorie estimates for the cheesesteak shot up to 787.

But when presented with an image of a cheesesteak after seeing a picture of a slice of chocolate cake, subjects’ estimates for the cheesesteak’s calories dropped to 489 calories.

Showing a healthy item first seemed to prime the subjects to judge the next non-healthy item more harshly, and showing a less-healthy item primed the subjects to give the next non-healthy item more lenience.

The bizarre result was that in the final tally the subjects estimated a cheesesteak and chocolate cake combo to have fewer calories than a cheesesteak and fruit salad combo.

Perhaps then if you’re watching your weight you should carry around photos of healthy food in your wallet and look at the them before going into a restaurant. You’ll overestimate how bad for you the items you’re tempted for but know you shouldn’t have and make healthier choices instead. Garcon! More Lite Cheez Wiz!

Food Item Sequence Affects Estimates of Calorie Content [60-second Science]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Lollerface says:

    Consumerist commenters hate fat people. Go.

  2. apd09 says:

    Hasn’t this experiment been done many times already? I could swear every couple of years this info is republished as a new experiment/research but it has been proven time and time again how the mind associates things and how advertisers use it in all of their campaigns.

    • apd09 says:

      before anyone reports my comment as being malicious or anything, I am being serious, I am pretty sure I have seen this before so I am looking for someone to let me know if I am right or if I am imaging things.

      • Cantras says:

        I know at least that I’ve seen a very similar one on estimating the cost of things. If you look at a pricey widget, and then a bargain widget…
        The upshot was that no-one actually expects you to buy the gajillion dollar widget. They just know you’ll be tricked into setting “a gajillion” as a price point for widgets, and then you’ll overpay for the widget with one less feature but is only half a gajillion dollars.

        (replace “widget” with vacuum cleaner or computer or software or TV dinner…)

        • apd09 says:

          very true. on a related note to your comment, I have never understood the mental thought process behind $3.99 and $4.00, it is still the same to me and honestly to me a 9 is a higher denomination than 0, so to me seeing the .99 makes me think 2 things, 1) it is more expensive, and 2) it is still 4 dollars. Now they use the $3.98 but in the mind of many it is still 4.00 we all round to the nearest dollar to estimate prices but I guess some people do associate that with lower cost even though the savings is so small that it does not make any change the overall persons financial situation.

    • Ben says:

      That’s really the fault of the science journalists. I’m sure if you read the original scientific journal article, this research would be put in its proper context. But the press wants to report every single scientific study as an amazing new discovery of something we never knew before!

    • Promethean Sky says:

      I agree that it won’t change eating habits, but that doesn’t make it a stupid study. For example, it could alter the way items are listed for weight watchers.

  3. Coupon says:

    This is a stupid study and it won’t change people’s eating habits.

  4. jiarby says:

    mmm… cheesesteak & chocolate cake!!

    I’ll skip the fruit salad.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Mmmmm…. cheesecake and chocolate steak!

  5. Dinhilion says:

    It’s just a another example of the anchoring heuristic.

  6. Blueberry Scone says:

    I think this means that people don’t know how the hell many calories are in anything, anymore.

    • Michaela says:

      Most people don’t.

      Actually, most my friends don’t even know how many calories they need. It really makes me worry sometimes.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Yeah but no one will remember this study the next time there’s a post about putting calorie info on menus.

  7. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    This is not the cake you’re looking for…

  8. DeltaTee says:

    Garcon means boy.

    • Dragon Tiger says:

      And also means waiter.

      • Conformist138 says:

        No, no it does not. Not at all. In fact, using “Garcon” for a waiter is from stereotypes showing the French as rude and condescending. If you go to France and call out “Garcon! Garcon!” with a snap of your fingers to a waiter, you’d be considered just as rude as if you were to call “Come here and serve me, boy!” in America.

        Yeah, I had a French teacher in high school who loved to take groups of students on trips abroad and she was VERY clear on how this is extremely inappropriate behavior, particularly when Americans have the stereotype of being such rude travelers.

  9. daveinva says:

    Dude, that is one deep Eisenstein reference.


  10. Mecharine says:

    This has to be a joke?Right? There’s no way anyone would think cheesesteak and chocolate cake has less calories than cheesesteak and fruit salad. That would require some kind of strange leap of logic.

    • evnmorlo says:

      They don’t mention that the subjects were placed in sensory deprivation chambers when looking at these imagines. Most either choked on their own tongues or ended up in comas after smashing their heads against the wall.

    • Conformist138 says:

      It works because it’s multiple groups each seeing their own particular images. It’s not one person rating cheesesteak/fruit higher than cake/cheesesteak, put averages from one group compared to averages from another. With enough participants, it should give a general idea of individual behavior.

      I’d guess there were four group averages involved: cheesesteak/cake, cake/cheessteak, cheesesteak.fruit, fruit/cheesesteak

  11. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Dammit, now I want a cheesesteak.

  12. healthdog says:

    The cake is a liar.

  13. shopSmart says:

    Yes, this follows my theory, eating dessert first is better for you.

  14. tz says:

    “Eisenstein” – do you mean “Einstein”.

    If you will excuse the christmas creep, consider the fruitcake – instead of regifting, you have the best of both worlds.

  15. Jula says:

    I changed my eating habits 2 years ago, and now I can never go back. Makes me sick to even think of it. I make almost everything from scratch, lots of fruit, greek yogurt, high fiber cereals, etc.

    If I even read the ingredient and calorie info labels on most food now, I literally feel sick. Especially the high sodium contents on some things. Have you guys read the the sodium content of those Hungry Man dinnners??? How is that legal??? It’s horrible!

    Same for most ice creams (not an ice cream fan though). But if it has more than 5 ingredients…it should be cream, milk, sugar, then the whatever flavor. It should not read like a science experiment…

  16. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:
  17. RogueWarrior65 says:

    Cows eat grass. A lot of grass. Cows digest grass absorbing nutrients and excreting waste. I eat cows. It’s just a more efficient delivery medium.

  18. RogueWarrior65 says:

    Cows eat grass. A lot of grass. Cows digest grass absorbing nutrients and excreting waste. I eat cows. It’s just a more efficient delivery medium. Same thing with cake. Flour (grains), eggs, milk, chocolate. What’s not to like?