neuroscience | November 09, 2011

Jonah Lehrer: The Social Significance of Supersizing Portions

Neuroscience speaker Jonah Lehrer has a knack for bridging academic papers and the realities faced by regular people. In his latest piece for Wired, Lehrer wrangles waistlines. More specifically, he highlights studies that show we are actually really bad at figuring out when we're full. It's a problem that affects more and more people in North America when you consider the fact that serving sizes have grown 40 percent in the last 25 years. Lehrer points to two studies: one shows that we'll unknowingly, yet happily, overeat from a bottomless soup bowl. The second reveals that we'll take more M&Ms depending on the size of the scoop—essentially, we'll eat more if we are simply presented with more.

Zooming out, Lehrer writes that social status may play a role in our obsession to supersize everything: cultural norms tie largess to increased status. Just look at TV sizes or the square footage of your home. The irony, of course, is that perceived status from eating more can actually hurt success, as being overweight is tied to lower work rank. The good news is that some psychologists have been able to reverse the effect by tying prestige to small portions, like you'd expect from hors d'oeurves at a fancy shindig.

Jonah Lehrer—hailed as "an important new thinker" by The Los Angeles Times—is the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide. His next book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, is due in March 2012.

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