Food perception in dieters and non-dieters
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Two studies examined dieter-non-dieter differences in food perception. There were two specific questions. First, do dieters spontaneously categorize foods in terms of emotions (e.g., guilt) more than do non-dieters? Second, do dieters perceive foods in a more complex manner than do non-dieters? Female undergraduates (N = 50 and N = 46 in the two studies) were given cards containing the names of randomly-selected generic foods (e.g., cakes, melons) and were asked to "group the foods according to how you think about them when it comes to eating them". Herman and Polivy's Restraint Scale was used to classify subjects as dieters and non-dieters. Cluster analyses of the labels used by subjects to name their groups revealed six clusters in both studies. Four of these clusters showed substantial similarity across the two studies. These were an Enjoyment Cluster, a Sensory Qualities Cluster, a No Guilt Cluster and a Nutritional Qualities Cluster. One major finding was that, in both studies, dieters had significantly higher scores on the No Guilt Cluster than did non-dieters. Thus dieters thought of food in terms of absence of guilt more than did non-dieters. With respect to the issue of complexity in perception, the findings clearly contradicted the notion that dieters simply dichotomize food into "good" and "bad" categories.
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