Chair of Marketing

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak: The moderating effect of implicit associations on healthy eating behaviors

This paper examines how implicit processes shape consumer’s food decision making. A series of three empirical studies combines questionnaire data with the Implicit Association Test to demonstrate that the effect of nutrition self-efficacy on behavioral intentions and eating behavior is moderated by food associations that are activated automatically and unconsciously. The Main Study provides evidence that consumers with a low ability to adopt a healthy diet behave according to their self-efficacy if implicit associations are negatively connoted (e.g., “healthy food products are less tasty”). A mediated moderation model shows that the interaction effect exerts its influence via intentions to adopt a healthy diet. Replication Study A confirms that this interaction effect even shapes the consumption patterns of at-risk consumers who have received nutritional counseling. Study B confirms the moderating role of implicit associations in a different setting and for different implicit associations. The article reveals that solely increasing consumer’s self-efficacy will not result in substantial changes towards a more healthy diet. By addressing implicit processes, food producers and policy makers can improve the effectiveness of their efforts to induce changes in consumers’ food consumption patterns.

Mai, R.; Hoffmann, S.; Hoppert, K.; Schwarz, P.; Rohm, H. (2014). The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak: The moderating effect of implicit associations on healthy eating behaviors. Food Quality and Preference (forthcoming).