Divide your food, money to avoid over-indulgence

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Washington, Apr 20 : It must be quite often that you gobble down your favourite snack or dish in lump-sum and then regret over-eating later on, but if you divide the same portion in many it will certainly save you from that overwhelming guilt that follows, says an IIM alumnus in his new study.

In fact, the same goes for money as well, as according to this research people tend to go through things more slowly when the lump sum is partitioned into small portions.

WUSTL marketing professor, Amar Cheema, assistant professor of marketing at Olin Business School, and his colleague Dilip Soman, professor of marketing at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, have claimed that dividing food into smaller portions creates a "partitioning effect;" a phenomenon where segmenting a resource, such as food or money, can dramatically affect consumption.

"Partitions introduce a small transaction cost. In the case of 100 Calorie Packs, the cost is the action necessary to open a second package. This transaction cost gives consumers the opportunity to pay attention to how much they're eating and may help many control overeating," Cheema said.

He said that partitions not only reduced the rate of consumption but also the total amount consumed. They conducted two studies to examine what people do when they are given food and money in lump sum and in portions.

In the first study, each participant was given a box of 24 cookies and asked to record how long it took to consume them. Half of the participants' cookies were individually wrapped. Those who received the cookies in aggregate consumed them in an average of six days as against an average of 24 days for the group with the individually wrapped cookies.

"Consumption is a meta-decision, one in which we decide whether or not to start eating, but don't consider each individual action. Take potato chips, for example. Once we begin eating them, we don't ask ourselves, 'Should I have another?' before each chip," Cheema explained.

Partitioning stops automatic behaviour and forces the consumer to decide whether or not to continue eating.

"If we're trying to curtail a discretionary consumption activity, simply thinking about it might be enough to get us to stop. Interestingly, we found similar results when we partitioned money," he added.

In another study, students were given 100 dollars in pretend cash to participate in a gambling study. Some students received one sealed envelope with all the money, and others got 10 sealed envelops that each contained 10dollars. Individuals with multiple envelopes tended to spend less, sometimes half of what the people with the single envelope spent.

"The power of partitioning can reduce spending by 50 percent. The effectiveness of mechanisms like snack packs can diminish over time. People grow accustomed to them and may start eating more than one pack in a sitting. Consumers may require a variety of frequently changing partitions to curb overindulgence," he said.

He also warned of another risk: "Sometimes, calorie-counted packs are touted as being 'guilt-free.' Consequently, people may not keep track of how many they eat in a week and consume more than they would from products in regular packaging. In our research, we find that partitions work well when they are novel and when people are trying to control consumption."

Their paper "The Effect of Partitions on Controlling Consumption," will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing Research.

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