Effects of instrumental consumption on children's food preference

Leann Lipps Birch, David Birch, Diane Wolfe Marlin, Laurie Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In attempts to force children to increase consumption of certain foods, parents frequently make another activity contingent upon consumption of those foods, i.e., “Drink your milk and then you can watch T.V.” The research reported below examines the effect on food preference of using a food in the instrumental component of a contingency. Twelve preschool children's preferences for seven fruit juices and seven play activities were assessed twice, before and after imposition of contingency schedules. The “target” juice and play activity used in the contingency were selected from the middle of the child's preference orders. Fixed ratio schedules were constructed for each child, using baseline data from sessions in which both the target juice and activity were freely available, and administered in six contingency sessions, each with two cycles of the contingency over a three-week period. During this same period, children received an approximately equivalent amount of exposure to the other juices and activities in the classroom to control for possible differential familiarity effects on preference. Results indicated a significant negative shift in preference for the target juice consumed instrumentally but no change in preference for the target activity. Findings are related to response deprivation and over-justification hypotheses. Implications for child feeding practices are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-134
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1982

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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