The Moralisation of Eating
University of Cambridge
Department of Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Schei, T. (2019). The Moralisation of Eating (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.43500
Morality, food and eating have been associated for centuries. However, little is known about the extent and impact of this association on how people relate to food and eating today. This thesis explores three questions in seven studies. The first question is: ‘Do people compensate morally for unhealthy eating behaviours?’. Moral compensation is the tendency for people to carry out an act perceived as ‘good’ following an act perceived as ‘bad’. Chapter 3 and 4 address this question by measuring whether chocolate consumption is associated with moral judgements (Study 1), and investigating whether recalling an overeating episode makes people more likely to act prosocially (Study 2). The results reveal first, an association between eating behaviour and moral judgement such that the more chocolate people eat, the less harsh their moral judgements, and second, that those recalling an overeating (vs neutral) event were later more prosocial. The second question is: ‘How prevalent is the tendency to associate morality with eating and food?’. Chapter 5 addresses this question by measuring the extent to which moral concepts are used to advertise food in women’s magazines (Study 3). The results show that a third of food adverts use moralising concepts, a pattern that has remained stable over the last fifteen years. The third question is: ‘What is the impact on self-reported desire and observed behaviour of associating moral terms with food?’. Chapter 6 presents experiments assessing whether moral labels on unhealthy and healthier food impact participants’ desire to consume the food (Study 4), actual consumption of the food (Study 5) and selection of the food (Study 6). An internal meta-analysis of the three studies demonstrates that moral labelling has no effect on self-reported desire for food. However, in terms of the observed behavioural measures (selection and consumption), the results follow a pattern of congruency: moral labels increase behaviour (selection and consumption) towards healthy food and immoral labels increase behaviour towards unhealthy food. Taken together, the findings indicate that the moralisation of eating has several consequences. First, people’s unhealthy eating behaviour is associated with moral judgement and later moral compensation. Second, eating and food are associated with morality in about a third of food advertisements in women’s magazines. Third, this association impacts self-reported desire and behaviour towards the morally labelled food: when a food has a moral label congruent with its healthiness, people are more likely to select and consume it.
eating, morality, psychology, self-licensing, moral compensation, moral licensing, food labelling, marketing, food, moral judgement, overeating
Medical Research Council
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This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.43500
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