Effects of Labels and Advertisements on Sugary Drinks Representations, 2020-2022

Papies, Esther and Claassen, Maria Almudena (2022). Effects of Labels and Advertisements on Sugary Drinks Representations, 2020-2022. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-856178

What is the motivation for consuming sugary drinks? Why do some people choose Coke, and others water, to accompany their dinner or to quench their thirst? We know very little about the psychological processes underlying these behaviours. While the motivation for unhealthy food has been researched extensively, the motivation for sugary drinks remains understudied, despite their negative health implications. Up to 19% of daily calorie intake consists of sugar from drinks, and the consumption of sugary drinks contributes to weight gain. The consumption of sugary drinks is a main contributor to poor dental health and to overweight, which cost the NHS 3.4 billon and 4.7 billion a year in England alone (Public Health England, 2014). Especially given the recent media attention, many consumers are aware of the health implications of sugary drinks, but struggle to successfully reduce their intake. Therefore, it is important to understand what underlies the motivation for sugary drinks, and how we can effectively assist consumers in replacing sugary drinks with healthier alternatives such as water. We propose that sugary drinks gain their attractiveness through consumption and reward simulations. In other words, when people see or think about a sugary drink, they spontaneously simulate (i.e., re-experience) the sensation and the reward of consuming it, such as its taste, the resulting energy boost, and the quenching of thirst, based on their previous, rewarding experiences. These simulations trigger a desire to consume sugary drinks, particularly when feeling thirsty. Although evidence exists for the role of such simulations in the motivation for food, no previous studies have applied this account to drinks. Our research will first systematically test this simulation account of the motivation for sugary drinks, and then use it to stimulate healthier choices in innovative ways. In Subproject 1, we will investigate the specific simulations that are triggered by sugary drinks and by water. Building on recent pilot data that we have collected, we expect that sugary drinks will trigger more consumption and reward simulations than water, particularly among high consumers of sugary drinks, and particularly when thirsty. In Subproject 2, we will link these consumption and reward simulations to the motivation to consume sugary drinks and water. To this end, we will use a novel method to assess motivation unobtrusively: we will measure the degree to which participants slightly lean forward on a Wii balance board when viewing images of drinks. Such subtle approach movements have been shown to reflect motivation and desire. We predict that more consumption and reward simulations will be associated with leaning forward more toward sugary drinks images, especially among high consumers of sugary drinks and especially when thirsty. Finally, in Subproject 3, we will use these findings to develop an intervention approach to help consumers replace sugary drinks with water. Typically, advertisements for sugary drinks focus heavily on consumption and reward, whereas advertisements for water focus on purity and health benefits. We propose that motivation for consuming water can be increased by boosting consumption and reward simulations, in a similar way as for sugary drinks. Thus, we will test whether using images and words that trigger consumption and reward simulations for drinking water makes water more attractive and increases water choices, and reduces choices for sugary drinks. We will test this in both online and field experiments with actual consumers in naturalistic settings. Together, these experiments will help us understand what makes sugary drinks so difficult to resist, and how health practitioners, intervention developers, and industry can boost the motivational appeal of healthier alternatives to stimulate healthier beverage choices.

Data description (abstract)

Many people consume too much sugar from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and would benefit from drinking water instead. Previous research has shown that taste and reward expectations play a key role in food and drink choices, and that thinking about drinks in terms of consuming and enjoying them (i.e., simulations) predicts desire and intake. Here, we examined whether labels using consumption and reward words increased the appeal of water. In three pre-registered experiments with regular consumers of SSBs (N = 1355), we presented numerous different labels of fictitious water brands with words related to the rewarding consumption experience of water (e.g., “refreshing”, “cool”), with conventional descriptions of water that emphasised its origin and purity, or with brand names only. We assessed anticipated reward of water, desire for water (Exp. 1, 2, 3), simulations of drinking water, and water attractiveness (Exp. 2 and 3). Contrary to our expectations, waters with consumption and reward-focused labels were not rated more favourably than waters with conventional labels, but both were rated higher than brand-only labels. Our findings suggest that the appeal of water cannot easily be increased by emphasising the rewarding consumption experience through language only, possibly because consumers may have a relatively fixed representation of what water tastes and feels like. Future research could test interventions that include stronger sensory information such as images to increase the appeal of water among SSB consumers. This is what was done in Experiments 4-6 of this data collection. Here, we examined whether simulation-enhancing advertisements framing water in terms of consumption and reward changes cognitive representations and increases motivation for a fictitious bottled water. Methods In three pre-registered online experiments, UK participants viewed three advertisements that highlighted either the rewarding consumption experience of water (e.g., “refresh all your senses with this smooth, cool water”), health consequences of drinking water (e.g., “this water takes care of your health”), or control advertisements. We assessed cognitive representations of the bottled water with a Feature Listing task, and we coded the words used as consumption and reward features or positive long-term health consequences features. We assessed motivation by measuring attractiveness of the water (only in Exp. 4), desire to drink it, and willingness to pay for it (WTP). In line with our hypotheses, participants represented the bottled water more in terms of consumption and reward simulation features after viewing simulation-enhancing advertisements, and more in terms of long-term positive health consequences features after viewing health-focused advertisements. There was no direct effect of advertisement condition on motivation. However, significant indirect effects showed that simulation-enhancing advertisements increased desire and WTP through the proportion of consumption and reward features, whereas health-focused advertisements increased motivation through an increase in the proportion of positive long-term health consequences features. The effect through consumption and reward was stronger. These findings are in line with research suggesting that experiencing immediate reward from drinking water underlies intake. Public health interventions should emphasize enjoyment, rather than long-term health benefits.

Data creators:
Creator Name Affiliation ORCID (as URL)
Papies Esther University of Glasgow
Claassen Maria Almudena University of Glasgow
Sponsors: ESRC
Grant reference: ES/R005419/1
Topic classification: Health
Project title: The psychology of sugary drinks: The role of consumption and reward simulations
Grant holders: Esther Papies
Project dates:
31 May 201814 September 2022
Date published: 14 Dec 2022 23:22
Last modified: 14 Dec 2022 23:23

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