Senior Psychology major Hadley Mates received Honorable Mention for her poster presentation, Reward preferences at school: Do children favor unhealthy food? at the 14th Annual Mid-South Psychology Conference on February 26 at Christian Brothers University in Memphis. Mates conducted the research reported in this poster in collaboration with Libba Coker '10, Lucy Taylor '10, and Associate Professor of Psychology Karen Yu. At the Conference, students from ten schools presented 22 posters and 15 papers.
Among other things, this group's research demonstrates that while elementary school students often prefer unhealthy foods to healthy foods when those are the only available options, they actually prefer a number of non-food options even more—some of which involve substantial physical activity. Given the potential problems associated with using food as rewards documented by other researchers (e.g., using foods as rewards increases children's preference for those foods; use of food rewards is associated with disordered eating patterns in adulthood), the present research argues for a reduction or elimination of food rewards, and demonstrates that non-food rewards may not only be healthier for children, but may be more effective because children actually prefer them.
Sewanee's Psychology Department and Office of Undergraduate Research provided financial support for travel to the conference.