There have been all kinds of studies on the effects of packaging and advertising on people’s perception of food and drink. Tasters rate “expensive” wines more highly than “cheap” ones, for example, even when it’s all actually the same wine, and kids rate food as tasting better when it’s in McDonald’s packaging as compared to plain packaging. The literature is full of these sorts of findings, and we can add another, creepy one to the list, courtesy of Science of Us contributing writer Christian Jarrett.
Luke Zhu and his colleagues made their finding by asking participants (58 men and 82 women) at a local fair to taste-test a blueberry muffin. Every participant tasted the exact same kind of muffin, but it was packaged in different ways for different participants. When it was labelled as a “Mega Muffin” (supposedly conveying an unhealthy variety) and its packaging was masculine (depicting men playing football) both men and women tended to rate the muffin as tastier, and they were willing to pay more for it, as compared with when the Mega Muffin was in stereotypically feminine packaging, with a woman ballet dancer depicted in the background. Similarly, participants’ ratings of the muffin were more positive if it was labelled as a Health Muffin and its packaging was feminine as opposed to masculine.
Thankfully, there were limits to this silliness:
[Y]ou’ll be heartened to know that in another experiment the researchers showed that if the genderered packaging was taken too far, the results actually switched. With the Mega Muffin labelled as “The Muffin For Real Men” alongside the same football imagery used previously, participants were on average willing to pay less for it than when the packaging contained the football imagery only.
One can only speculate at the result the researchers would have obtained if they’d provided the taste-testers with a “Mega Muffin for Real Big Manly Manly-Men Who Have Big Muscles and Aren’t Girly Girls.” Clearly, more research is needed.