By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
This post pays tribute to the notion that in research, everything matters. Yes, even what the research participants eat. Think about it: As participants check in, they're met with a "Continental" breakfast (featuring the food of the continent where, apparently, only muffins and sweet pastries are served). Then after what is probably a somewhat reasonable lunch, they're met with an afternoon snack featuring cookies, brownies, or for one recent project, a bowl of candy bars. All the while, in the observation room, the research team, clients, and attorneys are busy consuming what appear to be endless bowls of M&Ms.
We know, or should know, by now that these eating habits contribute to long-term health problems. But what you might not know is that this continuous sugaring during a research project is also contributing to a shorter-term problem with a direct impact on the value of your research results. Based on new research -- featured not by a health food crusader or anti-sugar zealot, but from Dr. Jeremy Dean's estimable Psyblog -- sugar consumption is associated with worsened learning and recall at the time. Research hosts and coordinators might believe that these sweets are somehow "energizing" the participants, thinking that a sugar buzz is going to lead to more participation. In practice, however, the effect is likely to be the opposite. Better foods will reduce those memory-sapping metabolic spikes, lead to a more balanced and alert research participant, and contribute to better results.