CAMBRIDGE, MA: The first bite of a food provides the greatest enjoyment, but it is the last bite that determines the overall level of satisfaction so larger portions tend to devalue the consumption experience, according to a leading academic.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Pierre Chandon, L'Oréal Professor of Marketing, Innovation and Creativity at INSEAD, reported research findings from studies he has undertaken in the US and France which demonstrated how people get the relation between pleasure and food size completely wrong.

In one instance, 367 adults were asked to predict how much they would enjoy increasing portions of a chocolate brownie.

"Most of them correctly anticipated that the largest portions (350 kcal) would be too large, despite being actually smaller than a regular Starbucks brownie," said Chandon.

"However, they all expected to enjoy eating three-fifths of this (210 kcal) more than eating only a fifth of it (70 kcal). It turns out that they were wrong.

"People who were given the smallest portion of the brownie reported a more satisfying experience than people who ate the medium portion, who were in turn a lot more satisfied than those who were asked to eat the whole thing."

That's because the initial enjoyment wears off and by the time someone reaches the end of a large portion, the final bite is "pretty bland".

Because most people aren't aware of this, or are focused on alleviating hunger or getting value for money, "they end up with portions that are too large from a pure pleasure standpoint".

But, Chandon added, it is possible – using "multisensory imagery" which invites people to remember their last pleasurable experience with a particular food – to not only persuade them to choose a smaller portion but also to be willing to pay more for it.

Data sourced from Harvard Business review; additional content by Warc staff