Washington: Consumers are likely to gorge on food especially in the presence of someone who is overweight.
"Why do people often think back on a pleasant evening with friends and realise that they ate more and worse food than they wish they had?" ask study authors Margaret C. Campbell (Leeds School of Business) and Gina S. Mohr (University of Colorado).
If any of those friends carry a few extra pounds, just being in their presence could trigger what the authors call a "negative stereotype", reports the Journal of Consumer Research.
"Seeing someone overweight leads to a temporary decrease in a person`s own felt commitment to his or her health goal," the authors explain, according to a Leeds statement.
In one study, they asked people who were walking through a lobby if they would take a quick survey. The surveys had photos, including that of an overweight person and a person of normal weight.
Then the researchers asked respondents to help themselves from a bowl of candy as a thank you.
"People who completed the survey that included a picture of someone who was overweight took more candies on average than people who saw either of the other two pictures," the authors write.
In subsequent studies, people who were invited to do a cookie taste test ate twice as many cookies or candy after seeing someone who was overweight.
This was true even if the participants had a goal to maintain a healthy weight and believed that cookies and candy can lead to weight problems.
Two main strategies served to counteract people`s tendency to overeat when in the presence of overweight individuals: thinking about health goals and being reminded of the link between eating and becoming overweight.