Having less: the induction of a scarcity mindset and its effect on snack consumption

  • S. van Rongen
  • K. Verkooijen
  • E. de Vet


Background: Scarcity theory suggests that scarcity of resources causes trade-off thinking and hence, cognitive load, leading to diminished cognitive functioning. This may be a relatively new explanation of poor diet quality among low-income groups, since there are indications that cognitive load can lead to less controlled eating behaviour. The aims of this study were, firstly, to develop a scarcity manipulation and self-report instrument, and secondly, to investigate whether this scarcity induction results in more snack consumption. Methods: In study 1, 81 students completed a choice task directed at organising a party. The number of choices within categories consisting of 3 options was budgeted. The scarcity condition was restricted to choose 1 option per category, whereas the no-scarcity condition was allowed to choose all options. Subsequently, participants rated 16 items related to their experience of scarcity, trade-off making, and engagement. In study 2 (currently running), 80 participants perform the choice task while being presented with snacks. They are requested to taste the snacks as part of a measurement of influence of party atmosphere on taste perception. The amount consumed is covertly weighed. Findings: Factor analysis yielded 4 reliable subscales, (all α > .7), related to subjective scarcity, trade-off making, engagement, and uncertainty. The scarcity condition indeed experienced more scarcity, t (53) = 2.42, p < .05 , and trade-off making, t (67) = 8.80, p < .05. Discussion: Evidence of a causal relationship between scarcity and control of eating provides new perspectives on relatively unhealthy diets of people with low-income.
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