Food choices are affected by companions’ choices

By Sheryl Kay • Published: December 15th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Eating with others is a social, often enjoyable activity, yet it can also be fattening.

It often depends on just who we’re eating with and how much they’re eating.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, two-hundred-ten college students were gathered together for what they were told would be an investigation into movie watching.

Each participant teamed up with another individual who was introduced as a fellow student, but who was in fact a member of the research team.

The researcher’s physical size was then manipulated by using a rubber suit to make the researcher look larger at various times.

Teams were then shown the movies while both members were offered M & M’s and granola for snacks. The undercover researcher was served first, and took either a large or small helping prior to the student participant, who was then offered the choice of snacks.

The researchers found that while most participants did take servings similar to what the covert researcher took, the quantity taken and the amount consumed depended on whether the companion researcher was thin or obese.

When the researcher donned the obesity prosthetic, the students mimicked the researcher’s eating habits less often, perhaps in part because of the social stigma linked to obesity.

More often, the behavior of the thinner companion was emulated, even if the thinner companion was eating more.

The authors noted while the findings do confirm eating habits can be influenced, the best advice is still to watch our own plate.

After all, no one should know better than us how much food our appetites… and waistlines… can handle.