Daily Science Factlet – comfort food facts

Today’s factlet is more a little group of factlets really. Today I’ve been immersing myself in the world of food psychology; specifically the psychology of comfort food. Here’s some of the interesting little tid-bits I’ve found so far:

  • When people are sad they are more likely to indulge in ‘hedonic’ foods (e.g. M&Ms and popcorn) than when they are happy, in order to improve their mood.
  • But happy people are more likely to over-consume healthier ‘non-hedonic’ foods, in order to maintain their mood and to avoid later regretting eating something indulgent.
  • Men report preferring meal-type comfort foods like soup, pizza and pasta, but women report preferring snack-type comfort foods like crisps and chocolate. The researchers who carried out this study suggested that this could be because the men preferred foods that made them feel looked-after, and women found comfort in foods they didn’t have to spend a long time preparing (though I’m not really convinced by this as an argument in this age of higher gender equality in the kitchen)
  • Allowing ‘consumption norms’ like how much your friends are eating or only stopping eating once the plate is empty can lead to over eating.
  • Distractions like TV can increase consumption – so-called ‘mindless eating’, because they create patterns of eating behaviour that aren’t correlated with hunger

One thing I have noticed in doing this research is that the results of experiments done on participants who didn’t know what the experimenters were looking at don’t always agree with studies where people have volunteered information about their preferences and eating habits. It seems that people are often not aware of how their behaviour is changed by factors like mood and external cues.

This is a truly fascinating area – if you want to read more, I highly recommend Brian Wansink‘s website, and that of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. Both have great educational resources and tips for reducing your own ‘mindless eating’.


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