• Alberto Giacometti's 'Pointing man' on display at Christie's, 2015. EPA/JASON SZENES (AAP)Source: AAP
Looking at the scary-thin artwork of Alberto Giacometti may help you fight the urge to binge on chips.
Alyssa Braithwaite

12 May 2016 - 3:29 PM  UPDATED 13 May 2016 - 10:14 AM

Trying to cut back on junk food? Perhaps you should try taking in a bit of art.

Recently published research suggests sculptures by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), who is known for his elongated, unhealthily thin human-esque figures, can counteract the urge to overeat when you're presented with something tasty.

The latest study in a series looking at the healthy eating benefits of the bronze sculptures by Swiss psychologists Aline Stampfli and Thomas Brunner suggests that looking at the tall, skinny forms aids portion control by reducing potato chip intake.

Giacometti’s “thin, human-like sculptures… could facilitate dieting by effortlessly reducing motivated eaters’ unhealthy food intake,” Stampfli and Brunner write in the June 2016 issue of the journal Food Quality and Preference. By motivated eaters they mean people who like the food in question.

Alberto Giacometti

For the study, 128 members of a “sensory consumer panel” who had previously taken part in taste-testing sessions sat in a small cubicle with a computer.

Half of the participants sat at a computer featuring a screensaver of three thin figures from Giacometti’s 1948 sculpture Piazza, while the other half had a blank screen.

After being instructed to memorise either a two-digit or a 10-digit number, the participants were served 20 Pringles Original potato chips and asked to indicate how much they had enjoyed the snack. They were told they could eat as many as they wanted.

“The participants who had been exposed to the Giacometti screen saver consumed less than the participants who had been exposed to the neutral white screen saver,” the researchers report.

The effect was limited to those who reported they liked the chips – those who had an incentive to eat more ('motivated eaters'). Giacometti’s ultra-skinny figures apparently lessened the impulse to keep snacking or prompted them to ignore it, regardless of whether the participants recalled noticing them or not.

Stampfli and Brunner do pint out that eating decisions are based on a variety of factors, so there’s no guarantee a single visual cue will make a decisive difference, and it’s also not known how long the effect will last.

Over the past four years the researchers have also published studies finding Giacometti’s sculptures reduced chocolate consumption and inspired people to choose healthy snack choices from vending machines.

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