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We've all seen those video clips where passersby are shown fast food items and asked to estimate the number of calories in, say, a double cheeseburger, or a burrito supreme. Generally, people are shocked when they're told the actual calorie count, which more times than not exceeds their guess by a dramatic amount.
Now, according to Cynthia Graber's "60-second science" podcast on Scientific American, a new study out of Northwestern University shows that the order in which foods are presented influences how many calories we assume those foods have. So, for example, if we're presented with a salad before a piece of cake, we might guess the cake actually contains more calories than if we see a bucket of fried chicken before the same cake. In other words, our guess is influenced not only by sequence, but by the relative virtuosity of the food that preceded it.
Is there a way to apply this newfound knowledge of the human psyche to daily food dilemmas? Let's see. Perhaps those trying to lose weight may want to store the chocolate cake behind the bananas rather than behind a box of cookies. When they see the bananas first, they'll (rightly) recognize the chocolate cake for what it is: a caloric bomb best avoided by the diet-conscious in favor of the more virtuous banana. Seeing it behind a box of cookies may make the cake appear to be less of a big caloric deal.