Effects of meal variety on expected satiation: Evidence for a 'perceived volume' heuristic

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Meal variety has been shown to increase energy intake in humans by an average of 29%. Historically, research exploring the mechanism underlying this effect has focused on physiological and psychological processes that terminate a meal (e.g., sensory-specific satiety).We sought to explore whether meal variety stimulates intake by influencing pre-meal planning.We know that individuals use prior experience with a food to estimate the extent to which it will deliver fullness. These ‘expected satiation’ judgments may be straightforward when only one meal component needs to be considered, but it remains unclear how
prospective satiation is estimated when a meal comprises multiple items. We hypothesised that people simplify the task by using a heuristic, or ‘cognitive shortcut.’ Specifically, as within-meal variety increases, expected satiation tends to be based on the perceived volume of food(s) rather than on prior experience. In each trial, participants (N = 68) were shown a plate of food with six buffet food items. Across trials the number of different foods varied in the range one to six. In separate tasks, the participants provided an estimate of their combined expected satiation and volume. When meal varietywas high, judgments of perceived volume and expected satiation ‘converged.’ This is consistent with a common underlying response strategy. By contrast, the low variety meals produced dissociable responses, suggesting that judgments of expected satiation were not governed solely by perceived volume. This evidence for a ‘volume heuristic’ was especially clear in people who were less familiar with the meal items. Together, these results are important because they expose a novel process by which meal variety might increase food intake in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-15
Number of pages6
Early online date16 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Nutrition and Behaviour


  • Meal variety
  • Sensory specific satiety
  • Decision heuristics
  • Food familiarity
  • Expected satiation
  • Perceived volume


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