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Café Connect: Studying emotional response and food choice behaviour in context

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What makes people choose a regular or half-size portion of cake when they are in a café? This was the question researchers from the University of Nottingham tried to answer with real-life context research during a series of public engagement events in 2016 and 2017.

Café Connect is a Public Patient Involvement (PPI) event organised by the University of Nottingham and supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award granted to Professors Joanne Hort (Biosciences) and Ellen Townsend (Psychology). During the event visitors are invited to take part in a range of activities related to health research. The event has a dual objective: researchers could showcase health related research as well as obtain participant input to research questions, methodology and other topics in order to improve their research in the future.

Sensory Scientists from the University of Nottingham’s Division of Food Science took the opportunity to study factors related to portion size choice during the series of Café Connect events. In 2016 they engaged with the public by inviting visitors in the café to join focus groups to discuss key factors in treat choices and portion size. Focus group participants were also asked for their opinions on different research strategies such as questionnaires, interviews, being observed or filmed and their willingness to cooperate with these methods if they were approached in a café. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the focus group members were not keen on the idea of being filmed while eating a cake. Participants also expressed worries about hot drinks getting cold while they were interviewed. A questionnaire was the preferred method for most, as long as it did not take up too much time.

Based on the learnings of the focus group discussions a questionnaire was designed to include the key decision factors for having a cake in a café. During two two-day events in 2017 visitors of the café in Nottingham’s city centre were approached by volunteers after purchasing brownies or flapjacks that were offered in regular and half portion sizes. In addition to a number of key food choice factors, participants’ expected and actual emotional response was measured before and after eating the cake respectively, using the EsSense25 emotion lexicon.

Another novel aspect of this study was that the focus groups participants were invited to get involved with data collection which allowed for some interesting observations on the interaction between participant engagers and study participants. 

In the real-life context of this experiment, data collection was fully dependent on the number of visitors that chose to buy the specific cakes. Visitors had to come into the café, choose to have one of the specific cakes that were studied and furthermore, be willing to participate in the study. As a result only a small number of participants were recruited over the course of four days.

The results showed no significant differences between the expected and actual emotional response. Cake-eaters expected to feel calm, good and satisfied after eating a cake. The most frequently mentioned reason for having a large cake was feeling hungry. Interestingly, people that chose a half-size portion liked the cake significantly more (P<0.05) and felt significantly more satisfied after eating the cake (p<0.05) than those who chose the regular sized portion. These results indicate an effect of sensory specific satiety when having a large portion size.

The learnings were presented to the wider public by Professor Joanne Hort during the final Café Connect Event in the end of June. In addition the research was presented on a poster at the IFST Sensory Conference 2017.

Marit Nijman

Sensory Science PhD student

University of Nottingham

School of Biosciences

Division of Food Science

Interested in finding out more on this explorative work on emotions, food choice and context?

Email me at marit.nijman@nottingham.ac.uk or contact me via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marit-nijman-732a26101/



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