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Descriptive peer norms, self-control and dietary behaviour in young adults

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There is evidence that perceived peer eating norms can influence dietary behaviour. This cross-sectional study examined whether certain personality traits increase the likelihood that personal eating habits are similar to perceived peer eating habits. We assessed frequency of consumption of sugar-sweetened soda (SSS) and sweet pastries (SP), as well as perceived peer descriptive eating norms for SSS and SP in a group of 1056 young adults. We examined whether individual differences in the need for social acceptance and self-control moderated whether participants were likely to display similar dietary habits to their peers. Perceived peer eating norms for SSS and SP predicted frequency of consumption; believing that one’s peers frequently consumed SSS and SP was associated with increased personal consumption for both. Individuals with low self-control, as opposed to high self-control, were more likely to adhere to peer norms for SP, but not for SSS. Trait social acceptance needs did not significantly moderate similarity between peer norms and personal consumption for either SSS or SP. The extent to which young adults adhere to descriptive peer dietary norms may depend upon self-control, whereby individuals with low self-control are less able to inhibit social influence of descriptive peer norms on dietary behaviour.
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Keywords: descriptive norms; eating norms; food consumption; self-control; social acceptance; young adults

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK 2: Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Publication date: January 2, 2016

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