Monday 8 September 2014

Research Bulletin: Does reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma result in long-term changes in attitude?

Although the primary focus of this site is on the psychological processes associated with engaging with fiction, a recent study on nonfiction is likely to interest our readers. Julia Hormes (Albany), Paul Rozin (Pennsylvania), Melanie Green (Buffalo), and Katrina Fincher (Pennsylvania) capitalized upon an initiative in which incoming freshman were all assigned to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma before arriving on campus. Students were mailed a copy of the book and once they arrived on campus they attended a lecture and participated in group discussions along with other events pertaining to the book’s themes organized throughout the year. These students, along with other students from previous years not assigned to read the book, then took an introductory psychology course in their first-year (2007; N = 594) or their second year (2008; N = 567). This provided a sort of natural experiment in which data could be collected on this freshman population either right after reading the book or a year later, along with a comparison population of people who hadn't read the book. The researchers measured the food attitudes of those who read the book along with those who did not read the book that same year (in 2007), and compared these to measures of attitudes a year later (in 2008) for those who read the book and those who did not. Notably, these samples in 2007 and 2008 did not include the same individuals; in other words, the attitudes measured 1 year later were not based on the same sample of people, but were drawn from the same larger population of students. What the researchers found was that although the book did change people’s attitudes toward food initially, a year later many of these attitudes did not differ from those who did not read the book. There were some exceptions, however. A year later, those who read the book were still more likely to disapprove of government subsidies and to believe that food quality overall was in a decline compared to those who did not. This is an interesting study as it incorporates a large sample and a long-term follow-up, along with exposure to an entire book. Those interested in the details of this work are encouraged to read the full-text, available below.

Hormes, J.M., Rozin, P., Green, M. & Fincher, K. (2013). Reading a book can change your mind, but only some changes last for a year: Food attitude changes in readers of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Frontiers in Eating Behavior, 4: 778.

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