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How You Estimate Calories Matters: Calorie Estimation Reversals

Kaitlin Woolley, Peggy J. Liu, Amna Kirmani and Lauren Block

Journal of Consumer Research, 2021, vol. 48, issue 1, 147-168

Abstract: Consumers often form calorie estimates. How consumers estimate calories can systematically bias their calorie assessments. We distinguish between magnitude estimates—when consumers judge whether something has “very few” to “many” calories—and numeric estimates—when consumers estimate a number of calories. These two estimation modes lead to calorie estimate reversals when assessing calories in stimuli that trade off type and quantity, such as when assessing calories in a smaller portion of unhealthy food versus a larger portion of healthier food. When forming a “magnitude estimate,” people judge the larger, healthier food portion as containing fewer calories than the smaller, unhealthy food portion. However, when forming a “numeric estimate,” people often come to the opposite conclusion—judging the larger, healthier food portion as having more calories. This reversal occurs because these two estimation modes are differentially sensitive to information regarding a stimulus’ type (e.g., food healthiness), which is processed first, and quantity (e.g., food portion size), which is processed secondarily. Specifically, magnitude estimates are more sensitive to type, whereas numeric estimates attend to both type and quantity. Accordingly, this divergence between calorie estimation modes attenuates when: (1) quantity information is made primary or (2) in an intuitive (vs. deliberative) mindset.

Keywords: goal pursuit; calorie estimation; food; exercise; scale compatibility; intuitive versus deliberative processing; portion size (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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