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Study: For healthy choices, shop with a cart, not basket

Consumer Reports News: July 19, 2011 03:08 PM

Heading to the grocery store? Then using a shopping cart instead of a basket can help you make healthier choices as you cruise down the aisles. At least that is the suggestion of a recent study in the Journal of Marketing Research.

The researchers, who watched 136 people as they made food choices in the grocery store, found that people who used baskets that they carried instead of carts that they pushed were more than three times as likely to choose unhealthy over healthy food items.

Why, exactly, is a little complicated, and involves something called "embodied cognition," or the notion that bodily sensations can influence our thoughts and emotions. In this case, the researchers say that the act of flexing your arm, as you do when holding a basket, somehow encourages you to choose smaller, easier rewards (also known, in this study, as "vices"), while extending your arm, as when you push a cart, has the opposite effect.

In other words, the simple act of holding a basket can trigger a desire for instant gratification, which overrides long-term goals. And here I thought I was being smart always grabbing a basket because I would be limiting my purchases to what fit in the smaller space and therefore forcing myself to buy what I needed and not waste space on frivolous cravings.

Embodied Myopia [Journal of Marketing Research]

Maggie Shader

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