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Exploring the proximity effect

This internally-funded PhD project explored the underpinning mechanisms of the proximity effect, where the amount of snacks consumption is reduced when snacks are placed further away. Research suggests that this simple yet promising intervention may contribute to decreasing obesity and snacking behaviour.

Image of crisps and nuts on a table

Researchers

Research aims

The project aimed to explore why the proximity effect occurs, with the effort required and how salient the snack is to the consumed being proposed as leading mechanisms by past research, yet little research elaborated on these propositions. With a more complete understanding of the effect, more effective interventions could be implemented into cafes and shops.

How was the research carried out?

Five laboratory studies were conducted, each with a snack (i.e. chocolate brownies, M&M’s) placed either 20cm or 70cm away from the individual, with consumption compared across conditions.

Results

The proximity effect was replicated in 80 percent of the studies, with consumption being higher when snacks were placed closer than further away. Physical effort was seen to be a leading component of the proximity effect, with visual salience thought to drive overall consumption, but not related to distance. With these outcomes, cafés could place less-healthy snacks further away or require more effort to attain to significantly reduce the selection and consumption of them.