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Visual illusions and plate design: the effects of plate rim widths and rim coloring on perceived food portion size




The Delboeuf Illusion affects perceptions of the relative sizes of concentric shapes. This study was designed to extend research on the application of the Delboeuf illusion to food on a plate by testing whether a plate’s rim width and coloring influence perceptual bias to affect perceived food portion size.

Design and methods:

Within-subjects experimental design. Experiment 1 tested the effect of rim width on perceived food portion size. Experiment 2 tested the effect of rim coloring on perceived food portion size. In both experiments, participants observed a series of photographic images of paired, side-by-side plates varying in designs and amounts of food. From each pair, participants were asked to select the plate that contained more food. Multilevel logistic regression examined the effects of rim width and coloring on perceived food portion size.


Experiment 1: participants overestimated the diameter of food portions by 5% and the visual area of food portions by 10% on plates with wider rims compared with plates with very thin rims (P<0.0001). The effect of rim width was greater with larger food portion sizes. Experiment 2: participants overestimated the diameter of food portions by 1.5% and the visual area of food portions by 3% on plates with rim coloring compared with plates with no coloring (P=0.01). The effect of rim coloring was greater with smaller food portion sizes.


The Delboeuf illusion applies to food on a plate. Participants overestimated food portion size on plates with wider and colored rims. These findings may help design plates to influence perceptions of food portion sizes.

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This research was supported, in part, by Award Numbers R01HL096015 and U01HL103629 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Children’s Health Research Institute at the Stanford University. Dr McClain was supported by Public Health Service Training Grant 5 T32 HL 007034 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute, the National Institutes of Health, or Stanford University.

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Correspondence to A D McClain.

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Study design (AM, WV, DM, SM and TR), data collection (AM and WV), data interpretation (AM, WV, DM, MD, SM and TR), literature search (AM and TR), generation of figures (AM, WV, MD and SM), writing of the manuscript (AM, WV, DM, MD, SM and TR).

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McClain, A., van den Bos, W., Matheson, D. et al. Visual illusions and plate design: the effects of plate rim widths and rim coloring on perceived food portion size. Int J Obes 38, 657–662 (2014).

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  • portion size
  • visual illusions
  • mindless eating
  • perceptual bias
  • dishware
  • plate

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