From the silly studies sector, here’s the latest in news you can’t miss – the study which answers the question that’s keeping you up nights: what deep dark secret is revealed by those who order big coffee drinks? Now you know…. Sophie Borland reports this week on a study conducted by the HEC Paris Business School, published in the Journal of Social Research, which sought to answer this question. They’ve concluded that people don’t buy the trenta size because they’re greedy, tired, thirsty of hungry, but because they’re trying to improve their “status in life” by convincing “themselves or others that they are better off”. So people buy the big fries for the same reason they buy a big car or a flat screen TV – to advance their social standing.
How did they reach such a broad, over-simplified conclusion? They cite an observation that there is an increase in food consumption, and this increase is particularly prevalent among lower socio-economic classes. They also carried out a few tests to determine if consumers viewed larger portion sizes as signifying higher status. It was found that “many of their volunteers” assumed that those who bought the large coffee were higher up socially. Another test showed that people would more often tend to get the bigger sizes when with others, yet chose small sizes when alone. It was concluded that those who feel powerless and threatened by a lower social status will tend to select larger food portions to compensate for their low self-concept by impressing their companions. It’s suggested that this also explains why the increase in obesity is more widespread among the poorer households. The researchers then go on to claim that this knowledge should help policy makers in the fight against over-consumption.
Remember, this is all pertaining to a group of undisclosed size living in Paris, France. As usual with such superficial studies, it’s easy to supply alternative reasons for buying large fries or venti or trenta coffees. The obvious one is that the person is thirsty, hungry, tired, didn’t sleep well and/or hasn’t eaten in two days. Maybe they’re celebrating a birthday, promotion, or another accomplishment. The study says it’s more likely that the consumer picks a large size when in a group, so could it be that they are thinking they’ll be visiting with friends for awhile and want the larger drink or food size because they’ll be sitting in the café longer and will want to take more time with their meal or snack etc.? It’s not just the French, but even the current American administration is concerned about our growing “obesity epidemic”.
Does a study such as this indicate that policymakers are now going to try to build the self-esteem of the poorer citizens among us so that they won’t purchase venti coffees anymore? This would dovetail quite nicely with the fears of Starbucks’ CEO that there is a coffee shortage looming ahead. May we expect to see the media showcasing poor people as the beautiful people, thereby lessening the demand for a commodity in short supply anyway? Watch for a sequel to “Super-size Me” called “Downsize Me”. Don’t worry you big gulp venti – trenta – grande - Social Climber drinkers out there – your secret is safe. We won’t tell that now we know that you’re secretly a social climber. Remember, silence is golden, which suggests the next study to be carried out, the one which proves that those who don’t leak the venti secrets of others view themselves at a higher social level.