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]