Scientific American reveals that the stuff you really weren’t expecting – the “unusual, the jarring, the culturally shocking” – can improve your cognitive ability and curb your urges to overeat:
The first two experiments took place during Fourth of July and Labor Day picnics. For the July Fourth party, white plates were randomly mixed into stacks of stars-and-stripes plates. On Labor Day, Halloween-adorned plates were mixed in with patriotic plates. Then guests selected food from a buffet line.
The result? On Labor Day, guests put less food on the Halloween-themed than on the patriotic plates. And on the Fourth of July, they put less food on plain white plates than on stars-and-stripes plates.
In other parts of this study researchers [James A. Mourey, Ben C. P. Lam and Daphna Oyserman] found that people who have been exposed to culturally-disfluent situations performed better on cognitive reasoning tests and were less likely to succumb to impulse purchases and food consumption. That situation was compared to when events met their expectations—such as seeing hearts on Valentine’s Day.
Encountering the expected allowed subjects to behave more mindlessly.