Presentation is everything

Presentation is everything

I don’t know about you, but when I cook dinner for my family and dish it up, I am a firm believer that presentation doesn’t matter. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Taste is everything and the sloppiness of my sloshing the food onto the plate is unimportant. That is, until they taste it and I have to fall back on “It’s good for you and it’s all you’re getting. Eat it”, but that’s beside the point. My point is that it doesn’t matter what my cooking looks like on the plate.

But I’m wrong.

Presentation creates expectations, which affect our perception in every meaningful way, including taste. If someone sees a great looking meal on the plate the halo effect kicks in and they expect it to taste good too. That expectation influences the final perception so they are more likely to think it is delicious.
There are many experiments demonstrating this phenomena, including by Dan Ariely, as related in his book, Predictably Irrational. He set up a stand giving away free samples of coffee. There were various ingredients people could add to the coffee if they chose, but they were so bizarre that no one did. Those ingredients were in view though, and were either in styrofoam cups or beautifully laid out in classy, brushed metal containers. The consumers were much more likely to say they enjoyed the coffee if those (unused) additives were in the attractive containers.

Parole judges should snack regularly.

Parole judges should snack regularly.

Parole judges should snack regularly – as should anyone who makes important decisions.
One of the problems with being ego-depleted (when the combined resource for mental, emotional and physical effort has been drained) is the difficulty in putting effort into decision making. In this state of ego-depletion you are more likely to fall back on whatever the default option is, rather than investigating all the possibilities and carefully choosing the best one.
Danziger et al studied the timings and decisions of parole judges. Their job was to decide whether a prisoner should be granted parole or not, with the default position being that they should not – that is, they were to be granted parole only if there was a good reason. At the start of the day about 65% of prisoners were granted parole. This gradually went down until, for a period of time before lunch, almost no prisoners would be given it. After lunch the rate went back up to 65% and gradually declined once more. The longer it had been since the judges took a break and food, the more likely they were to defer to the easy option – the default judgement of no parole.
Eating snacks can help to keep the blood sugar level up, resulting in better decision making.
If you make important decisions, make sure your brain is rested and fed enough. You should take regular short breaks and eat something to restore the glucose levels in your blood. Becoming ego-depleted from exertion without rest and fuel means you risk settling for the easy option rather than choosing the correct course of action.

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