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Priming Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behavior

Identification of a proper source to be used in the research is one of the main tasks for the study preparation. The researcher should properly locate, analyze, and systematize the data existing on the chosen topic. Therefore, a researcher should be able to conduct the database search, identify the topic of research, its type and methodology, as well as properly evaluate importance and consistence of the research. This paper presents the research study for priming effect of television food advertising on eating habits of children and adults on the example of the experimental approach used in the article by Harris, Bargh, and Brownell.

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The topic of the chosen study is the influence of food advertising on the development of eating habits among children and adults. The authors investigate the relation between priming effects used in education and priming effects created by TV programs. They claim that people who see food advertisements on the TV screen tend to have the eating behavior watched keeping unhealthy diets and increasing consumption of high fat, sugar and sodium containing food.

The study was conducted experimentally using the control group in order to obtain powerful statistical analysis. In fact, the authors conducted three experiments. In experiments 1a and 1b, the main participants were children. They were given a cartoon with two short advertisement breaks. One-half of the participants watched food advertisements, the other half – entertainment or goods advertisement. Children were alone while watching advertisements in order to prevent possible limitations. In addition, applicants were offered to have a snack during the experiment. Besides, participants in experiment 1b were offered a $20 gift card as a compensation.

The participants of an experiment 1 were children aged from 7 to 11, in total 118 children. In experiment 1a the participants were relatively similar, as opposite to the experiment 1b, where more ethnically diverged group was chosen. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire, including such data as the number of hours the child watched TV during the last week and his/her eating habits. Moreover, the authors calculated the child’s Body Mass Index (BMI).

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The study results were collected by measuring the amount of cheddar cheese ‘goldfish’ cracker (the proposed snack) the child ate while watching the cartoon. The overall amount of crackers consumed during both parts of the experiment did not differ. However, it was found out that children who were watching food advertisement consumed 45% more crackers than the control group. Therefore, the experiment proved the theory.

Experiment 2 was conducted in order to identify the power of advertising on adults, i.e. whether it can change the eating habits. The participants here were students aged from 18 to 24, in total 98 people. They were of different ethnicity and social position. The students were given a television program episode, interrupted by commercials having either non-food or food content. Food commercials also differed by content – one part were about snacking behavior, other ads contained nutrition messages.

The participants were intentionally tested at the particular time of the day to minimize the initial effects of hunger. In addition, they were pre-tested to examine TV effects on their mood and behavior, as well as the ability to identify the healthiness of the particular food sample. As a result, the experiment showed that the consumption of any food in the group that watched food advertisement rose significantly. Therefore, the initial goal of the research was met. The experiment proved that food advertisement influences eating habits and leads to the increased consumption of food.

Research Discussion

The importance of the chosen topic is explained by the fact that nowadays media has a priming effect on the human consciousness and, therefore, on their behavior. The advices from the TV screen, advertisements, talk shows and others greatly influence habits and beliefs of the audience. This issue is especially acute when talking about eating behavior since junk food, carbonated drinks, and sweets are greatly advertised. Thus, they attract attention and people buy them, changing their eating behavior. There are a lot of studies conducted on the matter.

It is obvious that advertisements directly influence the level of the goods purchased, in this case, food. However, its effect on the diet was not clearly identified, as well as studied primarily in children and only concerning the unhealthy snacks (Harris, Bargh, & Brownell, 2009). Therefore, the real power for food ads was not investigated. The chosen study presented comprehensive and evident data on food advertising effect for people of all key ages, as well as proved that food commercials not only mainly promote unhealthy snacks, but also influence the overall food consumption and are able to change eating habits.

The obtained information can be used both as an individual preference and a research objective. This topic may be considered to be of high importance since it can be further used for human development and formation research. The mentioned study investigates the mechanisms of habits’ development in childhood, which can be changed in adulthood. The authors extensively used psychological analysis of the age group.

Additionally, this study is a useful tool for priming effects investigation being related to the competencies of the Human Growth and Development course. Priming effect is the main tool for upbringing and education of children at the early stages of their development. The priming occurrence also can reflect the automatic causal effect. In addition, social and physical behaviors activated by primes can be better understood on the example of advertising as a prime, leading to unconscious desire to consume more food when watching it being advertised on TV.

Finally, the research study of this article is teaching how to locate the researcher on the required topic, using key words, the search engine of the database, and librarian data. In particular, I recognized the importance of reading and familiarizing with an abstract as the concise and general information about the article. In addition, this is useful for future researches in terms of creating the appropriate abstracts in order to simplify the search for students and other researchers.


It is important to proper locate and identify sources for the research study. In the science one cannot completely investigate the topic. Therefore, findings of existing investigations and studies help the researchers discover new source material and new perspective on seemingly already known topics or known events. This gives the study novelty and applicability of the chosen topic. The range of available sources evaluation helps to identify theoretical questions, on which a research work will offer new interpretations and conclusions.

Taking into account the analyzed work, it is a very useful tool for Human Development and Growth course in terms of understanding the mechanisms of priming effect of advertising. In addition, the acuteness of the topic cannot be underestimated in terms of prevailing unhealthy diet among children and adults. Furthermore, the mentioned study reflects new viewpoint onto food advertisement effect and proposes new methods of its use, taking into account the conducted library and existing sources of research conducted at the beginning.

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