Exploring preferential food selection: a cross-cultural study between Chinese and Malay undergraduates in a private university

Alias, Adila (2020) Exploring preferential food selection: a cross-cultural study between Chinese and Malay undergraduates in a private university. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Previous studies and cross-sectional surveys conducted in Malaysia have shown that the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are associated with poor diet practices. Overeating is contributing to the increasing prevalence of obesity and other NCDs among Malaysians. This study aims to investigate how environmental influences might impact food preferences between Malay and Chinese.

Past research shows that ethnicity is related to differences in food-related beliefs, preferences and overall eating behaviour. To investigate how environmental factors might influence food preferences, a series of experiments were conducted using psychological paradigms. First, food consumption patterns using a Food Frequency Questionnaire (Chapter 2) between the two groups were compared. It was found that Malay participants consumed more spicy and savoury foods, and larger portions of both artificially and naturally sweet foods, such as fruits. Overall findings of the FFQ showed that Malay participants consume a higher level of energy intake compared to the Chinese participants, which is reflective of existing literature in Malaysia. Additionally, Malay participants showed a preference for wheat-based foods other than rice- which is staple food in traditional Malay cuisine. In contrast, Chinese participants showed a higher preference for traditional Chinese cuisine for everyday meals such as noodles and porridge.

Preferential food selection was examined using a 2AFC method (Chapter 3). Malay participants selected spicy foods more than Chinese participants, and both groups made more preferential selections of savoury foods than they did for spicy foods. Malay participants made the most selections for sweet foods, whereas the Chinese participants chose savoury foods the most. Spicy foods were the least preferred among the Chinese participants, whereas the control food items (e.g. raw vegetables and fruits) were the least preferred among Malays.

To understand whether selections made on a 2AFC task are representations of actual preferences; a categorization and ratings task was given to assess participants’ recognition of spicy, savoury, and sweet foods (Chapter 4). Results showed that Malay participants had significantly more errors in categorizing the savoury foods than Chinese participants, while the Chinese participants made significantly more errors in categorizing spicy foods than the Malay participants. Both groups attributed highest ratings of palatability to spicy foods, followed by sweet foods and rated control foods the lowest. The Chinese participants found spicy foods to be higher in flavour compared to the other categories of food. It is proposed that although the Chinese participants might not consume spicy foods on a regular basis, they provided higher ratings of palatability.

The effects of semantic priming on categorising different categories of foods flavours between the groups was examined in Chapter 5. It was predicted that the presence of a prime (visual imagery) would interfere with participants’ abilities in characterising target words effectively depending on what category the prime represented. Malay participants had higher errors than Chinese participants in processing target words from spicy, sweet, and control categories although this difference was not significant. Both groups had difficulties in characterising spicy and savoury target words when the prime presented were spicy and savoury food stimulus.

The final experiment explored the role memory and familiarization in food recognition abilities across the two groups. Certain types of dishes might be more “salient objects” for one group rather than the other and this could influence food preferences (Chapter 6). Results showed a higher average consumption quotient for spicy, savoury and sweet foods on the R-FFQ among the Malay participants. Malay participants were not more susceptible in discriminating repetitions of spicy and sweet food stimuli more than the savoury and control food stimuli. Although Malay participants exhibited the lowest d’ scores in recognition for the spicy food items, scores were not significantly different from scores in recognizing the other food categories. Chinese participants showed the highest accuracy in recognition for control food items, and no relationship between familiarity and recognition of the savoury food items. We were unable to establish a connection between familiar foods and performance on the recognition task.

Cumulatively, the overall findings from this entire investigation raises questions about measures which can effectively measure food selection. For future studies, we hope to employ more indirect, discreet measures in assessing preferential food selection among Malaysians. Overall, the findings show that both groups show a slight predisposition towards flavour components present in their traditional cuisines, but more research needs to be carried out to understand this further.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Price, Jessica Mary
Keywords: cultural differences, Malaysian, food choice, spicy, sweet savoury, food, Malay, Chinese Malaysian
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Faculties/Schools: University of Nottingham, Malaysia > Faculty of Science and Engineering — Science > School of Psychology
Item ID: 60905
Depositing User: MOHD ALIAS, ADILA
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2020 08:59
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2020 08:59
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/60905

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