Exposure to an adult’s positive facial expression while eating raw vegetables can increase children’s acceptance and consumption of the vegetables that they generally dislike, according to new research by a team of psychologists from Aston University, Birmingham, UK.
The researchers recruited 111 British kids aged four to six and asked them to watch a video of an unfamiliar adult model eating raw broccoli with either a positive or neutral face expression. Afterward, parents were asked to assess each child’s willingness to try raw broccoli, while the scientists measured the number of grams of broccoli consumed.
“Raw broccoli was used due to its bitter taste, since bitterness is innately less preferred. Broccoli is also likely to be unfamiliar to children in its raw form,” explained the study authors.
The findings were remarkable: children who were exposed to videos of adults enjoying broccoli ate, on average, more than twice the amount of the vegetable compared to kids in the other group (11 grams compared to five).
“One explanation for the beneficial effect of positive facial expressions whilst eating could be that conveying food enjoyment gives the observer information about the safety and palatability of food,” wrote the researchers. “Thus children may have eaten more broccoli after watching adults enjoy eating it, because they believed it was enjoyable to eat.”
“Our findings suggest that observing others enjoy a commonly disliked vegetable can increase children’s appreciation and intake of raw broccoli,” explained study lead author Katie Edwards, a professor of Psychology at Aston University. “Modeling the enjoyment of vegetables could encourage healthier eating in children.”
According to Professor Edwards and her colleagues, further work is needed to determine whether a single exposure (to adults enjoying broccoli) is sufficient and whether these effects are sustained over time.
The study is published in the journal Appetite.