Free Associations to "Food"

The Effects of Gender, Generation, and Culture

Published in: Journal of Research in Personality, v. 36, no. 5, Oct. 2002, p. 419-441

Posted on RAND.org on October 01, 2002

by Paul Rozin, Nicole K. Eberhart, Adam B. Cohen

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Free association patterns to the word "food" (first three words that come to mind) are used at the group level to investigate "default" attitudes toward food, comparing genders, American generations (college students, their parents, and their grandparents), and college students in three cultures (the United States, France, and India). Frequencies of free associations for each group were organized into categories and assigned a positive, negative, or neutral valence. We provide evidence that these free associations have some stability over a 2-month time period, as well as some validity. Generation and culture are good predictors of free association content and valence, with gender a less powerful predictor. Overall, examination of free association data indicates that Americans are most worried about what they consume and are most "fat" phobic, students (youngest generation) are most inclined towards unhealthy foods and least concerned about the health effects of foods, and that, combining across generations, females are somewhat more concerned about food and health and fat but these effects are smaller than culture or generation effects.

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