By the early age of 3 to 5 years, low-income preschool children preferred the tastes of foods and drinks if they thought they were from McDonald’s, demonstrating that brand identity can influence young children's taste perceptions. - Pediatr Adolesc Med.
I was a little surprised the San Mateo County, CA experiment was limited to low-income kids, but the study author, Dr. Tom Robinson, allegedly believes the results would be similar for children from wealthier families.
Five foods were tested. The chicken nuggets, hamburger and french fries were all from McDonald's; the carrots and milk were from a grocery store. Kids sat behind a white screen, and were handed two identical samples of food, one coming out of a plain paper bag, wrapped in plain paper, while the other came out of a McDonald's bag, wrapped in similarily-labeled paper. If kids did not immediately recognize the symbol (around 25% of the time), a researcher would tell them which one was from McDonald's.
The independent variable in this case was the packaging for the food, while the dependent variable was the kid's preference of food. (Kids also had the option of saying the two samples tasted the same.) The researchers made great efforts to control their experiment, I recommend reading the methods section of the study to read the details. In fact, the whole study is pretty intense. For such a simple-sounding experiment, there is still a lot of serious scientific method involved. The write-up includes statements such as, "The 63 children performed a total of 304 individual tasting comparisons. Three, 2, 3, 1, and 1 child were not allowed to eat hamburger, chicken nuggets, french fries, milk, and carrots, respectively, and 1 child was unable to bite the carrots. "
- 77 percent said the labeled fries tasted best while only 13 percent preferred the others
- 54 percent preferred McDonald’s-wrapped carrots versus 23 percent who liked the plain-wrapped sample
- The only results that were not overwhelmingly clear involved the hamburgers, with 29 kids choosing McDonald’s-wrapped burgers and 22 choosing the unmarked ones.
- Less than 25% of the children said both samples of all foods tasted the same.
Finally, the whole things makes me consider the power of advertising in older kids (and adults). All I have to do is consider fads like Ugg boots....