Improving accuracy of portion-size estimations through a stimulus equivalence paradigm


  • This research is based on a project submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the doctoral degree by the first author. We thank Steve Pitts, Natalie Rolider, Dave Schultz, and Susan Sonnenschein for their comments on earlier drafts. We also thank James Chastain, Kathleen Hand, and Lisa Toole for their assistance with data collection.


The prevalence of obesity continues to increase in the United States (Gordon-Larsen, The, & Adair, 2010). Obesity can be attributed, in part, to overconsumption of energy-dense foods. Given that overeating plays a role in the development of obesity, interventions that teach individuals to identify and consume appropriate portion sizes are warranted. Specifically, interventions that teach individuals to estimate portion sizes correctly without the use of aids may be critical to the success of nutrition education programs. The current study evaluated the use of a stimulus equivalence paradigm to teach 9 undergraduate students to estimate portion size accurately. Results suggested that the stimulus equivalence paradigm was effective in teaching participants to make accurate portion size estimations without aids, and improved accuracy was observed in maintenance sessions that were conducted 1 week after training. Furthermore, 5 of 7 participants estimated the target portion size of novel foods during extension sessions. These data extend existing research on teaching accurate portion-size estimations and may be applicable to populations who seek treatment (e.g., overweight or obese children and adults) to teach healthier eating habits.