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Privacy Science

Eat, Drink, and be Monitored 106

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the sacrifice-your-privacy-for-science dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "A new restaurant has opened at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, fitted with a control center and two dozen hidden cameras devoted to exploring the question of what makes people eat and drink the way they do. Over the next 10 years, a team of more than 20 scientists will use the research facility to watch how people walk through the restaurant, what food catches their eye, whether they always sit at the same table and how much food they throw away. Researchers will examine environmental influences on eating behavior by making small changes in the color of the lights, in accompanying sounds, in the scents or the furniture. "We want to find out what influences people: colors, taste, personnel," said one researcher. "This restaurant is a playground of possibilities. We can ask the staff to be less friendly and visible or the reverse." University staff who want to eat at the new restaurant will have to sign a consent form agreeing to be watched."
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Eat, Drink, and be Monitored

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  • by foobsr (693224) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:41PM (#21709554) Homepage Journal
    Does THC increase or diminish food intake?

    CC.
  • on privacy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by j_166 (1178463) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:44PM (#21709578)
    I don't really see the privacy implications. Presumably, those going to this research facility to eat know that its a research facility. They have to sign a consent form. The title of the article should be "Eat, Drink, and Participate in Food Science Research", but I guess "Eat, Drink, and Be Monitored" just sounds more Orwellian.
    • by the_humeister (922869) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:48PM (#21709612)
      It's just to get people riled up to click on the link so that they'll hopefully RTFA and then write a post about how the title is misleading...
    • Re:on privacy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @02:27PM (#21709864)
      Yes there is a sign on the door...

      Having the experience of living in the Netherlands as foreigner for the last 5 years or so, I can tell you that the tolerance and support for surveillance in this country is scary. Very scary.

      It comes AFAIK from a tradition of religious control, where people's lives were very closely followed by the religious. Go to any village in this country, and you will only see houses with huge windows and without curtains.

      Nowadays everybody supports more cameras in the street.

      This country has a culture of peer monitoring of behaviour, and peer "active" enforcing of acceptable behaviour (normally through the waving of a censoring finger, while preaching). Everybody watches everybody, and everyone will point in a censor-like way, to anyone not acting normally. This is no joke. The saying is "act normally" ("Doet normaal!"), for anyone doing anything nor conforming to "morally & socially" approved behaviour.

      I could go on... but I better not.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by yootje (770109)
        Disclaimer: I am Dutch ;) First off, I don't think it has anything to do with religion, people just like to watch people and gossip about it, especially in small communities. You almost don't see this behaviour in the cities and in small towns it's reducing, I think (I live in a city myself). You can also look at this in an other perspective: Maybe the open curtains say: we have nothing to hide, look at us? Or maybe people just like to watch birds. And I don't what you are trying to say about the "doe nor
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Darth Liberus (874275)
          I was in Amsterdam for five days in May and found your people to be really open, charming, and tolerant. I actually really liked the culture; everyone just goes about their lives doing whatever they damn well please and if someone's being an asshole people tell them to knock it off. American culture, on the other hand, can be VERY judgemental and VERY conformist, so I can see how such openness would cause some of us to become very, very paranoid :)
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            American culture, on the other hand, can be VERY judgemental and VERY conformist

            Much like in the Netherlands, it also depends where you live in America. The South East (where I'm originally from) seems to adhere to these properties more so than other areas of the country (ex. California). In big cities you see less of the judgemental/conformist culture (just like in the Netherlands). Furthermore, I believe the judgmental/conformity traits hold the least in Western, individualistic cultures. I would expe
            • by LuSiDe (755770)
              Oh yes, and it used to be "live and let live". This was The Netherlands (minus some villages) in the 80s. Having been in and around San Francisco for half a year I can tell there are some similarities between Frisco and The Netherlands but... things are changing, and I can state many changes in The Netherlands which make the aspects about the culture we discuss more bleak. For one, there is this European Union, demanding conformity between its States. Also, very right wing (tm) parties are on the rise, and
          • by Xhris (97992)

            I was in Amsterdam for five days in May and found your people to be really open, charming, and tolerant. I actually really liked the culture; everyone just goes about their lives doing whatever they damn well please and if someone's being an asshole people tell them to knock it off. American culture, on the other hand, can be VERY judgmental and VERY conformist, so I can see how such openness would cause some of us to become very, very paranoid :)

            The Dutch are not tolerant particularly. It however is important to been seen to be tolerant (ie the tolerance is a fairly surface thing). And they are definitely judgmental! Almost all expats who have lived there for more than 5 days agree.

        • Disclaimer: I am Dutch ;) First off, I don't think it has anything to do with religion, people just like to watch people and gossip about it, especially in small communities. You almost don't see this behaviour in the cities and in small towns it's reducing, I think (I live in a city myself). You can also look at this in an other perspective: Maybe the open curtains say: we have nothing to hide, look at us? Or maybe people just like to watch birds. And I don't what you are trying to say about the "doe norma
      • by moz25 (262020)
        Just curious: which part of the country are/were you living in?

        I've been living in The Netherlands for 20+ years and don't recognize what you're saying at all. Then again, I'm living in The Hague (one of the big cities) and not one of the small villages.

        The Netherlands is one of the least religiously dominated countries in Europe: even the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage (of of the #1 priorities it seems of most religious groups). The only places you'll still have the narrowminded attitu
        • The only places you'll still have the narrowminded attitudes are in the smaller isolated villages.
          Doesn't that amount to the whole of the country except Amsterdam & Rotterdam?
          • by rvw (755107)

            The only places you'll still have the narrowminded attitudes are in the smaller isolated villages.

            Doesn't that amount to the whole of the country except Amsterdam & Rotterdam?

            No. These smaller isolated villages are rural and small. Maybe they account for 5% or 10% of the people. It's not that only the big four cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht) are tolerant. There are many other cities, and these cities are growing and growing. But it is true that the bigger the city, the more tolerant the people are in general.

          • by Djatha (848102)
            No, actually the whole frikking country is one big city with large parks between the communities. I think the grandparent is referring to the Bible-belt in the Netherlands and the very small villages (less than 1000 people) or empty cold lands of the North (Frysia anyone?).
      • by owlstead (636356)
        Huge windows and no curtains? What's wrong with that? You think that is done to monitor the street? Gods, I would hate it if they had small windows and curtains closed all the time. If you want to do something in private, you would not do it in the middle of the street now, won't you? And in the few places where religion still is in control, that's where you'll see closed curtains, otherwise the neighbors will see what you are up to.

        "Doe normaal" is indeed preserved for people that act crazy. But the many t
      • Mmmm. I shouldn't feed the trolls, but....

        I think you have a reason to post this anonymously. Post some crap about a country, its inhabitants, their attitude and behaviour, and watch them go beserk.

        At least that was what you hoped for...

        (and yes, I'm dutch)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Presumably, those going to this research facility to eat know that its a research facility.

      Then it's a complete waste of effort. If those participating know that it's being monitored then they'll be playing a role, not acting naturally. The waiter is rude to you, what do you do? Well there's cameras everywhere, are you going to play "nobody messes with me, buster" or are you going to play "calm and unflustered"? The waitress is flirting with you, are you going to show play "real man" or "faithful husband"?

      It could be a lot of fun, but it isn't science. Unless they are also monitoring another res

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by porcupine8 (816071)
        You don't sign an agreement every time you enter. You sign once, and then eat there whenever you want all school year (or however long, dunno how long the agreements last). A lot of research is done in front of cameras - if you leave the cameras there long enough, people forget they're there. I do educational research, and you always go into the classroom a few days early and start recording (or pretending to record). By the time you're ready to collect your data, the kids have forgotten the camera's there
    • I don't know why no one has mentioned "Mindless Eating" a book written from experiences in a US "Research Restaurant" exactly like this. Among their findings: Free wine from a bottle labelled "NEW from California!" caused people to eat more, and longer, than the same wine in a bottle labelled "NEW from South Dakota". People ate less when the Superbowl peanuts and popcorn were distributed in small bowls, versus the same quantity distributed in fewer large bowls. We are more satisfied by a small serving on
  • if you know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Turn-X Alphonse (789240) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:44PM (#21709582) Journal
    But if you know you're being watched won't it effect how you act?

    If that woman knows someone is watching her she might resist eating that extra few fries, but if she isn't she might just go get another bag cause she's had a shitty day.
    • by pmdkh (1180717)
      This is what I was thinking, i.e., that it would produce some sort of Hawthorne effect [nwlink.com].
      • This introduces so much bias into the system I don't know how any results they gather will be of any use statistically or scientifically. You introduce astroturfing, trolling, self-conscious habits, confirmation bias, etc. into your results. To say that they can gather anything scientific from this is just stupid. Without blinds and controls, there is no way to isolate variables.
        • Re:if you know (Score:5, Interesting)

          by CapsaicinBoy (208973) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @03:54PM (#21710622)
          Disclaimer: IAAFS

          Without meaning to be rude, you are flat out wrong. It just so happens that I study ingestion behavior for a living. My work is more related to the genetics of eating behavior and food choice, so this facility is less directly useful to me personally, but it absolutely will move the field forward. Unlike armchair quarterbacks that take cheapshots on the intarweb, every practicing scientist recognizes the inherent tradeoffs between experimental control and generalizability.

          First, before the Correlation !=Causation weenies get their panties in a bunch, I'm happy for you that you passed stats 101, but you need to understand that RCTs are not the only way to do science. Yes, randomization is really nice for making claims about causation, but at least in humans, I can't assign you a specific gene (TAS2R38) or personality trait (novelty seeking). Yet we can still use the scientific method to make predictions based on theory and test those predictions.

          Second, much of this work is done today using self report. Certainly, observation can induce bias, but so can self-report. When separate methods, with separate flaws confirm the same findings, science moves forward.

          Finally, your comment about blinds, controls and isolation of variables is totally ignorant. The ability to manipulate this artificial restaurant in ways you could never manipulate a real restaurant is *exactly* what provides those controls.

          Here is an example. Imagine I have a theory how socialization influences the time people spent at the table and the amount they consume. In this restaurant, I can manipulate the table size (2 vs. 4 chairs), social attachment between people (sit with friends or random assignment) or gender (do women eat more or less when seated with random men, male friends, just women, etc) to test my theories.
    • by pkadd (1203286)
      agreed. If they tell the customers that they are being monitored, they will behave differently, no doubt If the don't tell them, wouldn't that be a breach of the basic privacy laws?
      • by Darundal (891860)
        At first they will behave differently, but as soon as they get used to it, they will probably forget all about it.
        • And being a university restaurant, I'll wager that they'll have quite a large number of regular/repeat customers such that they do get used to it.
    • I expect that the professors and research students, who have spent years of their lives learning how the human mind works, will probably have thought of this too. I don't pretend to know a work-around to the problem, but there exist some academics willing to devote ten years of their lives to it. So it can't be that fatal an error.
    • Re:if you know (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Zironic (1112127) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @02:44PM (#21709974)
      It's rather irrelevant though.

      What they want to know isn't "How do you eat"

      But "How does your eating change if we do X and Y"

      So how you're eating when you're being watched will become the baseline they're doing experiments on seeing how it changed by changing variables.
      • Scientific studies that tell people what is actually being monitored are pretty broken because telling people about the monitoring is likely to impact behaviour.

        Far more often, these places will tell you about one thing, but actually be monitoring something completely different. eg. They might say they're monitoring whether peaople eat more from square vs round plates when in fact they're monitoring if people eat more (or say the taste is better) when the the menu has fancy French names.

        • by Zironic (1112127)
          afaik they're only telling you you're getting monitored.

          They're not telling you what they're actually experimenting with.
    • No, but it might affect how you act.
    • by TomHandy (578620)
      I was going to post something similar but not surprisingly this point has already been made. Frankly, it seems like the whole idea that people know they are being monitored would have a very significant effect on their behavior, choices, etc.
    • All that this study will accomplish is to gather statistical data on the food intake patterns of people in the Netherlands. Every country has its own culture and that has a strong influence on how they react to others, how they eat their food, what they eat and when they eat.
  • Is university run dining in the Netherlands the same pseudo-monopoly ripoff it is in the United States?
    • by Gyga (873992)
      It might be worse. In the US most universities require freshmen to buy over 15 meals a week from them. They say it is to make sure they eat (freshmen sometimes forget). But the food is more expensive and of lesser quality than restaurants. Think of overpriced highschool food.
      • Universities actually "require" very little of freshmen. Those so-called requirements like "live on campus first semester" or "buy X level meal-plan" are really guidelines, since they can be waived for just about any reason. All you need to do is ask. Or all your parents need to do.
        • by Brandee07 (964634)

          I have attended two different universities, in different states. Both require that students living in on-campus dorms buy a meal plan. If you don't, about a month into the semester they evict you. I lost a roommate that way (and was quite happy about it, she was a b****).

          The food is also general extremely substandard and expensive. Food poisoning is unfortunately rather commonplace in my experience.

          I hope this study can capture the effects of the quality of the food on the people who eat there, but it d

          • Are you sure that's why she left, and she wasn't just using that as an excuse? It's been my experience that if you bitch about it to housing they'll eventually let it go. Threatening language notwithstanding.
      • Well, I can't speak of everywhere, but I can speak of all the schools in Florida, MIT, Berkley, and Georgia Tech, and Purdue because I know people from all of them.

        None of those schools have programs like that. You can always opt out of the meal plan.
        • by Gyga (873992)
          For those of us bound to in state schools due to lack monitary resources, my state has only one university good for engineering, they have a required meal plan for all freshmen for the first year. The school that is only good for medical fields has a similar plan but only for the first semester. The other schools are only good for teaching and arts majors which I am not in. Even then most of them have similar programs according to my friends that attend them. Not all states are the same. And I'm sure school
    • It's probably worse, becuase all you get is grated chocolate sandwiches and some kind of horrible drink loosely based on milk.
    • by borizz (1023175)
      Yes and no. While the cafeterias do charge a lot for some articles (.30 or so eurocent for a slice of bread, at University of Twente, where I'm at), you are not required to eat there. Other things are more mundanely priced. A big subway-style sandwich (the length of a French "flute" bread) with generous filling runs you about 2,20 euro. Which I think is reasonable. Coffee and tea is at .25 cents a cup, .20 cent if you reuse your previous (disposable) cup or bring your own cup. For prices in dollars, multipl
    • by pimpimpim (811140)
      No: As far I understood, in the US you have to pay an all-inclusive amount for living, food, and tuition. Even if you don't want to eat the food, you still have to pay for it.

      In the Netherlands you pay separately for everything, so you have more choice on what you spend your money on. Still, it is quite expensive, the same or higher as railway station prices. I guess you don't go to a railway station in the US so often, so let's say it's like gas station prices. The candy machines at Utrecht University we

  • At least on the day that the scientists unleash Flatulent Frank on the unsuspecting diners.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      No, the day some unsuspecting crook tries to stick up the place, now THAT'S gonna be funny. I hope that gets on court tv. "I now present evidence 1-p, videofeed #16"
  • by NetSettler (460623) <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:53PM (#21709644) Homepage Journal

    We can ask the staff to be less friendly and visible or the reverse.

    They have the ability to just ask waitstaff to be more friendly or visible and thereby cause it to just happen??? Forget the rest of the research, this one technique is wholly unknown to and long sought by restaurants everywhere. They should just publish how they manage that trick and call it a day!

    Better still, patent it, and retire wealthy.

    • by ToadMan8 (521480)
      The trick, in this case, is to hire University researchers to wait tables.
       
      To put it in more slashdotty terms, it's what happens when senior managers and directors get their hands in first-line support. Extremely patient, well-researched, instantly followed-up support results.
       
      It simply doesn't scale to have senior management waiting tables.
  • Science? (Score:3, Informative)

    by no-body (127863) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:55PM (#21709656)
    I wonder how they comensate for the factor introduced by the folks being watched knowing to be watched and playing a game.

    Maybe they glean something out of it to predict human behavior.

    I wish all the power to humans to be as unpredictable and crazy as ususal and make them scratch their heads after they find out that things don't add up.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gotzero (1177159)
      Most university affiliated learning centers/experiments like this usually have heavily subsidized costs of goods. At my university, there was a restaurant that the hotel and restaurant management students ran. It was the best food and atmosphere for miles around, almost free, and completely not advertised. A lot of people did not know about it, and I ate there as often as I could get a reservation. I would have been happy to sign a waiver that my behavior could be watched there. I am sure a lot of my b
  • This type of 'research' has been going on for a LONG time.
    The only thing different here is a controlled setting
    specifically designed for research, which by it's very nature,
    will skew the findings. Restaruants have been doing this forever.
    What sells, what ambience sells the most while encouraging
    turn-over. Stuff any motel and restaruant manager knows to
    look for anyway.

    Yawn. Supersize that!
    • The only thing managers/owners I've met were worried about was imprinting their brand on happy customers. Sure they think about how any decision will affect their type of "guest" and if it meshes with the place's current image, but that doesn't go as far as "will they eat more meat if I use a pink tablecloth vs a red one?"
  • ...useful to learn about.

    That is the restroom end regarding health issues and how to improve restroom conditions to promote better care by the patrons.

    Being hungry has more influence than anything they can inject into the environment. Same goes for the restroom, but both environments can influence how patrons make use of the ....
  • Eating habits, effect of lights etc.- who are they kidding? I bet this is the first step in the secret development of Bistromathic drive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bistromathic_drive/ [wikipedia.org]
  • They neglected to mention the close monitoring of the way figures strangely fail to come to the expected sum on bills in chintzy Italian restaurants.

    This omission leads me to believe they are partially funded from a mysterious cabal, hence the secrecy about that bit.
    • Science is the art of measurement my friend, within defined entities and boundaries like the laws of nature. Billing in Italian restaurants clearly fall outside this scope.
  • Did I miss the fad transition from double-blind to double-unblind? Sure, the restaurant sounds cool, and maybe some of the research is applicable to the real world, but it sounds like they're tweaking a lot of the variables here at the same time.
  • This is the only energy source that could be more powerful than the Infinite Improbability Drive!
  • In order to get proper results it can only be done by a double-bliund experiment.
    The fact that the diners and servers both know they are part of an experiement will surely throw the results off a lot, so basically this is an invalid experiment.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by CapsaicinBoy (208973)
      Hurray. You learned about the Hawthorn effect in some class. How's about you leave the real science to the grownups and go back to studying for finals. Do your really think so highly of yourself that you really believe people that actually have PhDs and do this for a living aren't aware of such things like observer bias?
    • Actually, he's right.

      Just because they have PhDs doesn't mean they are compensating for the Hawthone Effect, although they should be compensating for it.

      If the researchers ARE ALSO the observers, then the Hawthorne Effect WILL affect the outcome of their results. If the researchers are NOT the observers, then the results will be closer to true.

      CapsaicinBoy's immature comment is probably the result of Small Man Syndrome, but I can't conclusively diagnose that, since I am also an observer. If he had a brain,
  • by QuantumFTL (197300) <justin...wick@@@gmail...com> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @03:25PM (#21710368)
    No this isn't research into space, into sexy supercomputing clusters, or other far-flung reaches of technology. This is research into basic elements of human behavior - indeed elements with a very strong environmental impact. Technology cannot solve all of our problems, it cannot solve the human condition. Part of fixing the ills in our society (and those we inflict on our supporting biosphere) is to learn how to subconsciously promote better behavior on the part of everyone. Small changes, done across the board, can make great gains - and much of these benefits "stack" with benefits from new technology.

    So don't knock this research until you've looked at the numbers - according to this article [sdsucollegian.com] in 1997, Americans threw away (for one reason or another) 27% of edible food, that's 96 *billion* pounds, which is ~400 pounds per person, per year! Sure, this occurs at many stages, but each stage can be improved.

    I am sure that these tapes will be studied years later by linguists, behaviorists, game theorists, businessmen and efficiency specialists. Besides, with research, we never know what we're going to learn until we try.
  • This kind of research has been done for a long time. See the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink [mindlesseating.org] for a summary. You're deluded if you think you know why you eat what you eat and how much of it you eat.
  • This has been done in America as well. This guy [wikipedia.org], author of Mindless Eating [wikipedia.org], opened up a restaurant that really only existed in order to perform this kind of experiment. ISTR that the patrons were informed as to the general nature of the place, but the food was good enough that they came anyway.
  • As long as nobody makes any snide remarks if the girlfriend and I sneak the odd pitcher of chocolate syrup out of the place instead of using it on our ice cream.

  • If they're studying me, then the food should be free.

    Wouldn't want to be there on the day they're trying to see what makes people puke.

  • ba da ba ba baaaa
  • And, I would like my french fries - SUPER SIZED!
  • "We can ask the staff to be less friendly and visible or the reverse."

    is it possible for restaurant staff in the Netherlands to /be/ less friendly and visible?

    i mean, they aren't really known for their hospitality.. i was there a week ago, speaking from experience..
  • - that they now know exactly what restaurant ambiance most appeals to exhibitionists :)

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