Shining Light on Atmospherics: How Ambient Light Influences Food Choices

Dipayan Biswas, Courtney Szocs, Roger Chacko, and Brian Wansink
Article Snapshot
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Key Takeaways

Changing ambient light influences ordering of food items at restaurants.

Ambient light luminance (brightness/dimness) influences how mentally alert consumers are.

People make healthier food choices when ambient light is bright, and they consume more calories when ambient light is dim.

​Article Snapshot​s: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing Research​​​​​​​

The results of a field experiment at a casual dining chain and multiple lab studies show that ambient light luminance (bright vs. dim) influences the extent to which consumers order healthy versus unhealthy foods. Ambient light also influences total calories purchased and consumed.



Research

Restaurants/stores vary greatly in terms of ambient light luminance. There does not seem to be standard policies for ambient lighting levels, even at major global retail/restaurant chains. Our desire to focus on choices of healthy versus unhealthy food options was driven by the high obesity rates in the United States and in many other parts of the world. While extant research has examined the effects of ambient factors, this is the first study to consider the effects of ambient light on food choices. We hypothesized that bright (vs. dim) ambient lighting will lead to healthier food choices. 


Method

We conducted a field experiment at multiple locations of a major global casual dining chain. We also followed up with lab experiments at a major US university.

Findings and Implications

We find that changing ambient light influences the types of foods people order. A major concern in the United States and many other countries is the rising obesity rate, which is driven mainly by increased consumption of higher-calorie foods. Our research shows that consumers order lower-calorie, healthier foods when dining in bright (vs. dim) ambient lighting. Consumers can opt to dine in establishments with brighter ambient lighting to enhance their likelihood of choosing healthier options. Managers can experiment with ambient light luminance level to influence sales of signature (or high margin) items.


Questions for the Classroom

  • How might restaurant/retail atmospherics and ambient factors influence consumer behavior and overall sales?

  • Can changing the brightness or dimness of the light in a store or at a restaurant influence consumers' thought processes and behaviors?

  • How might ambient light influence food ordering at restaurants and food stores?


Article Citation

Dipayan Biswas, Courtney Szocs, Roger Chacko, and Brian Wansink (2017), “Shining Light on Atmospherics: How Ambient Light Influences Food Choices,” Journal of Marketing Research, 54 (1), 111-123. 
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.14.0115​

Dipayan Biswas is Professor of Marketing, University of South Florida (e-mail: dbiswas@usf.edu).

Courtney Szocs is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Portland State University (e-mail: courtne@pdx.edu).

Roger Chacko is Executive Vice President and Chief Branding and Marketing Officer, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (e-mail: rchacko@alum.mit.edu).

Brian Wansink is John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University (e-mail: wansink@cornell.edu). 


Author Bio:

 
Dipayan Biswas, Courtney Szocs, Roger Chacko, and Brian Wansink
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