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Cognitive Differences Accounting for Cross-cultural Variation in Perceptions of Healthy Eating

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What counts as healthy eating varies both within and across cultures. While people often focus on specific foods and nutrients, the timing and style of eating (eating context) can also be an important consideration, and one that appears to vary across cultures. One possible explanation for this variation is differences in basic cognition, with holistic thinking in collectivist cultures favouring contextual factors. We assess this hypothesis by examining perceptions between two cultural groups that vary in collectivism. In study 1, we investigate whether residents of Ukraine place more importance on considerations of eating context than residents of the USA. In study 2, we test whether this between-country difference is due to the mediating effect of individual differences in collectivism. Ukrainian participants consistently placed more importance on context (Cohen’s d = 0.71–0.84; p < 0.01) and were more collectivist (Cohen’s d = 0.95, p < 0.001). A mediation analysis shows that collectivism significantly mediates the effect of nationality on context endorsement, and renders the effect of nationality non-significant (p > 0.05). These results suggest that the holistic pattern of attention might extend to the domain of nutrition and may account for some cross-cultural differences in perceptions of healthy eating. We briefly discuss the benefits of perception focused on the context of eating, such as decreased burden of self-regulation in a food-rich environment.

Affiliations: 1: Arizona State University, School of Human Evolution and Social Change p.o. Box 872402, Tempe, az 85287USA


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