, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 501-515

Effects of sugar ingestion expectancies on mother-child interactions

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This study tested the hypothesis that commonly reported negative effects of sugar on children's behavior may be due to parental expectancies. A challenge study design was employed, in which thirty-five 5- to 7-year-old boys reported by their mothers to be behaviorally “sugar sensitive,” and their mothers, were randomly assigned to experimental and control groups. In the experimental group, mothers were told their children had received a large dose of sugar, whereas in the control condition mothers were told their sons received a placebo; all children actually received the placebo (aspartame). Mothers and sons were videotaped while interacting together and each mother was then questioned about the interaction. Mothers in the sugar expectancy condition rated their children as significantly more hyperactive. Behavioral observations revealed these mothers exercised more control by maintaining physical closeness, as well as showing trends to criticize, look at, and talk to their sons more than did control mothers. For several variables, the expectancy effect was stronger for cognitively rigid mothers.

A portion of this research was presented at the 100th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, August 1992.
This research was supported by the Jesse G. Harris Memorial Dissertation Scholarship, and is part of the first author's doctoral dissertation at the University of Kentucky. Special thanks go to Monica Harris for her support and conceptual guidance at the outset of this project.