The Bottomless Soup Bowl is Awarded an Ig Nobel Prize!

cartoonQ&A: The Bottomless Soup Bowl

1. How did you come up with the idea to develop this bottomless bowl of soup?

People often say they know its time to stop eating when they the plate or bowl they are eating from is empty. They call this, “The Clean Plate Club. "We wanted to know what would happen if a person's plate or bowl never emptied.

We engineered "bottomless soup bowls," that secretly refilled themselves from under the table as people ate.

When we brought 62 people in for a free soup lunch, we found that those with refillable bowls ate 73% more soup, but did not feel any more full. They responded, "How can I be full, I still have 1/2 a bowl of soup left." (Only 2 individuals ever realized this was happening).

2. What are the conclusions of your work in nutrition field?

We eat with our eyes and not with our stomach. The cues around us have a huge influence on not only what we eat, but also how much we eat, and when we feel full.

One tip is this. If you eat straight from a package, box, or ice cream pint, you'll eat a lot more than you otherwise would if you dished it out into a bowl and there -- for at least one second -- saw exactly how much you were planning to eat. As I wrote in my book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam 2006), we find this reduces how much people eat by around 32%.

3. When you started your work did you feel that it was "Ig Nobel kind"?

I love research that does 3 things: 1) Answers an important question, 2) Does so in a vivid, memorable way, and 3) Is published in a highly prestigious journal. This did all three. If an article is good enough to be in a great journal and vivid enough to receive an IgNobel, that’s incredible.

In Mindless Eating, I focus on dozens of these kinds of studies we have done to show how the environment influences us and what we can do about it. This seems to be the way I think about many kinds of questions: Vivid proof.

4. What it means for you to win this award?

I hope it underscores to young researchers that great quality research does not have to be stodgy and dry. You can think outside the box and still stay within a journal.

5. Are Ig Nobel awards a serious thing?

They are seriously fun, and they are effective in generating an interest in science among people who may not usually find it that interesting. If it generates more interest in science, and does it in a fun way, I think it does a great service.

6. What kind of experiments are you working on today?

Most of my new quirky experiments and discoveries are ones we are uncovering in restaurants, bars, school lunchrooms, and kitchens, and I describe them in, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam 2006). Making small changes in these places – to lighting, glasses, plates, food presentation, and so on – has a huge change on people. It enables them to mindlessly eat less than mindlessly eat more.

7. Where can a person find more information?

• The article can be found at Wansink, Brian, James E. Painter, and Jill North (2005), “Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake,” Obesity Research, 13:1 (January), 93-100.

8. What’s your background?

Brian Wansink is Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam 2006). He received his Ph.D. in Consumer Behavior from Stanford University and specializes uncovering how we can make small changes in our environment to eat less and enjoy food more.