Children are often fussy eaters, and most parents would say that trying to convince them that a given food is good for them won't help convince them to eat it. As it turns out, "won't help" might be overstating things. When told that a food serves some purpose other than tasting good, kids will rate it as less tasty and eat less of it.
Two Chicago-area researchers, Michal Maimaran and Ayelet Fishbach, phrase their research in terms of what they call "food instrumentality"—the idea that a given type of food is good for achieving a goal. Carrots are good for your vision, spinach makes you strong, and so on. The researchers suspect that this idea interacts with a quirk in the reasoning of young children: they tend to think of things as only serving a single purpose. If carrots are good for your vision, the reasoning goes, they're not likely to be good for your tastebuds at the same time.
Over a series of experiments with children three to five years old, the authors tested foods that were given various purposes: makes you strong, helps you read, or helps you count. In each case, the same foods were offered to a...
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