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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fatal errors in the food domain: children’s categorization performance and strategy depend on both food processing and neophobic dispositions.


In this study, preschool children were tested in a food versus nonfood categorization task. We studied the influence of edibility cues such as food processing (whole versus sliced items) on children’s categorization abilities. We also correlated children’s categorization performance and strategy with their food rejection scores (neophobia). 137 children aged 4-6 years were asked to discriminate foods from nonfoods. Results revealed that food processing features (slicing) afforded edibility, leading to potentially hazardous incorrect categorization. We also found that children’s categorization performance was negatively correlated with their food rejection scores. Moreover, as expected, children with high food rejection scores displayed a more conservative categorization strategy (i.e., categorizing food items as inedible) than children with lower food rejection scores. However, contrary to our expectations, both performance and strategy of less neophobic and picky children were affected by food processing. These children committed dangerous errors, categorizing many nonfood items as food when sliced.

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