Will the sugar tax stop people buying sugary drinks? (Part 2)

Back to blogs

Will the sugar tax stop people buying sugary drinks? (Part 2)

With mixed attitudes about whether a sugar tax will be a big enough step in preventing obesity in the UK, should other measures be brought in to help combat unhealthy consumption behaviour? Let’s see how psychology could be used to reduce soft drink consumption.

Language Framing

Language framing is a concept in which people respond differently towards particular stimuli depending on how it is presented to them.

For example, which message would be more likely to encourage healthy eating?

  • “Don’t drink sugary drinks, you’ll get fat”
  • “Eat fruit and you’ll get slim”

The argument is that the first message, which is negatively framed, isn’t as effective as the second, which is positively framed. Experts believe negative framing instills a sense of fear in consumers and so is the best method for preventing an undesirable behaviour. However, a meta-analysis of 29 language framing studies found that positive framing is actually more effective at influencing behaviour change (O’Keefe & Jensen, 2008).

With this in mind, advertising the positive associations of consuming low sugar products may be a more effective measure in reducing sugar consumption than advertising the negative effects of consuming high sugar products.


Another method that could be used to help people make better consumption decisions is through priming. Priming refers to any kind of cue which subconsciously changes a person’s behaviour.

For example, a person who sees the word “yellow” will be slightly faster to recognise the word “banana.”

In a supermarket setting, using images on headers can be used to prime shoppers. One study actually found that the mere sight of a tempting food image is enough to prime increased eating behaviour (Cornell, Rodin & Harvey, 1989).

Taking this one step further, the human brain contains mirror neurons which refer to a special group of neurons in the brain which fire not only when an individual executes a specific movement, but also when they observe one made by someone else (Oztop, Kawato & Arbib, 2013).

Theoretically, an image of a person taking a sip of a healthy, low sugar drink will stimulate areas in the shoppers brain which prompt the healthy drinking occasion.


The next step in reducing sugary drink consumption alongside the sugar tax is through changing shopper behaviour in store.

At SBXL, we offer Training and Workshops to help you understand (and influence) your shoppers in order to get better results.

I’m Phillip Adcock, author of ‘Shoppology, The Science of Supermarket Shopping’, and Managing Director of Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd (SBXL) – a company that specialises in analysing shoppers and shopping for some of the leading brands and retailers in the world. Call 08707 66 99 74 or Contact Us for more information.



Cornell, C., Rodin, J. & Harvey, H. (1989). Stimulus-induced eating when satiated. Physiol Behav. (4), 695-704.

O’Keefe. & Jensen. (2008). Do Loss-Framed Persuasive Messages Engender Greater Message Processing Than Do Gain-Framed Messages? A Meta-Analytic Review. Communication studies. 59(1), 51-67.

Oztop, E., Kawato, M. & Arbib, M. (2013). Mirror Neurons: Functions, mechanisms and models. Neuroscience Letters. 540(12), 43–55.