Category: Eating

When We’re Hungry, We Remain Surprisingly Helpful And Co-operative

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By Emily Reynolds

“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”: for the more mild-mannered among us, Bruce Banner’s famous catchphrase may not resonate. But add some hunger — “you wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry” — and many of us can start to relate.

Being hungry, whilst a daily occurrence, can have multiple negative psychological impacts. For one, and most obviously, it simply doesn’t feel good, often leading us to the aforementioned rattiness of “hanger”. But acute hunger has also been linked to an increase in self-interest and a decrease in helping behaviour, too. If your resources are low, the theory goes, you’re much less likely to cooperate with others as you want to keep food for yourself and are unwilling to expend valuable resources like time and energy on helping others.

But this isn’t always the case — at least not according to a new piece of research from Nature Communications. The team argues that acute hunger doesn’t always have an impact on prosociality, even though people strongly believe it does.

Continue reading “When We’re Hungry, We Remain Surprisingly Helpful And Co-operative”

Here’s Why We Eat More When We’re With Friends And Family

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By Emily Reynolds

Going home from dinner out with a friend or a Sunday family lunch, you may notice you feel slightly more full than you normally do after eating. And while some of this may have to do with how many potatoes your mum insists you eat, new research seems to suggest that there could be something else going on. Researchers analysing dozens of past studies on the “social facilitation” of eating have confirmed that people do tend to eat more when eating in groups than alone — and have come up with several social and psychological mechanisms that could explain our increase in consumption in company.

Continue reading “Here’s Why We Eat More When We’re With Friends And Family”

How Cutting Down On Meat Affects Your Social Identity

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By Emily Reynolds

With increased concern about the impact of meat on our health and the environment, and an ever-expanding selection of meat-free products available to buy, popular interest in vegetarianism and veganism has steadily grown.

But for those who want to cut down but aren’t quite ready to give up their burgers, there is a third way: flexitarianism. As a 2019 study from the University of Nottingham on red meat and heart health put it, you “don’t have to go cold turkey on red meat to see health benefits”, finding that halving the amount of red and processed meat eaten can have significant health benefits.

A flexitarian tries to cut down their consumption as much as they can, but still eats the occasional meal or snack containing meat. One recent piece of market research found that 14% of the UK consider themselves flexitarian, and though more formal research would clearly be needed to paint a more critical and comprehensive picture, these figures do seem to suggest something of a cultural preoccupation with how much meat we’re eating.

Now new research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, has taken a look at how such an approach impacts identity as well as health. The choice to be vegetarian can be a significant source of social identity — but how do flexitarians see themselves?

Continue reading “How Cutting Down On Meat Affects Your Social Identity”

Simply Changing The Order Of Fast Food Menus Nudges Customers Towards Healthier Soft Drink Choices

Fast food and unhealthy eating concept - close up of fast food snacks and cold drink on yellow background

By guest blogger Freddy Parker

Fast food chains are not exactly renowned for encouraging healthy eating. But in a new study a team of psychologists, eager to turn that assumption on its head, chose McDonald’s as their target for a somewhat unconventional, psychologically-informed health intervention. Writing in Psychology & Marketing, the researchers report successfully “nudging” a group of Coca-Cola-guzzling customers into opting for its sugar-free counterpart, Coke Zero — simply by changing the order of options on the menu.

Continue reading “Simply Changing The Order Of Fast Food Menus Nudges Customers Towards Healthier Soft Drink Choices”

Episode 14: Psychological Tricks To Make Your Cooking Taste Better

GettyImages-694982996.jpgThis is Episode 14 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.


Can psychology help your cooking taste better? Our presenter Ginny Smith hears about the importance of food presentation, pairing and sequencing, and how our perception of food is a multi-sensory experience. She and her friends conduct a taste test using “sonic seasonings” that you can also try at home.

Our guests, in order of appearance, are: Professor Debra Zellner at MontClaire State University and Professor Charles Spence at Oxford University.

Background resources for this episode:

Episode credits: Presented and produced by Ginny Smith. Mixing Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Check out this episode!

Subscribe and download via iTunes.
Subscribe and download via Stitcher.
Subscribe and listen on Spotify.

Past episodes:

Episode one: Dating and Attraction
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits
Episode three: How to Win an Argument
Episode four: The Psychology of Gift Giving
Episode five: How To Learn a New Language
Episode six: How To Be Sarcastic 😉
Episode seven: Use Psychology To Compete Like an Olympian.
Episode eight: Can We Trust Psychological Studies?
Episode nine: How To Get The Best From Your Team
Episode ten: How To Stop Procrastinating
Episode eleven: How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Episode twelve: How to Be Funnier
Episode thirteen: How to Study and Learn More Effectively

PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology.

PsychCrunch Banner April 16

Routledge interviewed PsychCrunch presenter Christian Jarrett about the aims of the podcast and engaging with the public about psychology research.

Can attachment theory help explain the relationship some people have with their “anorexia voice”?

GettyImages-507801456.jpgBy Alex Fradera

A new paper in Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice argues that the relationship a person has with their eating disorder is shaped by that person’s understanding of what meaningful relationships should look like – and, in turn, this can have important consequences for the severity of their disorder.

In particular, Emma Forsén Mantilla and her team from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden wanted to better understand eating disorders through “attachment theory”. This is the idea that relationships with primary caregivers become scripts that we lean on to tell us how relationships “work”. 

Continue reading “Can attachment theory help explain the relationship some people have with their “anorexia voice”?”

Whether you snack or not is more about the presence of temptation than your willpower

giphy1By Christian Jarrett

When you’re in the coffee shop and you watch your hand pick up the muffin and place it on your tray, how much of this was down to the situation, and how much to do with your (lack of) willpower or your long-term intentions? A new study in the British Journal of Health Psychology compared these influences and found that momentary cues, such as seeing someone else snacking, were more strongly associated with how much people snacked than their own baseline psychological traits and intentions.

Continue reading “Whether you snack or not is more about the presence of temptation than your willpower”

The first study to see if fussy-eating children grow into fussy-eating adults

GettyImages-599487120.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Fussy eating – also referred to as “selective eating” in scholarly research – is incredibly common among children, with upper estimates placing the prevalence at 50 per cent. Despite this, many parents understandably fret when their kids avoid a lot of foods, won’t try new things and/or will only eat certain meals. They worry whether their child is getting enough vitamins and if their child’s fussiness is some kind of precursor to later more serious eating problems.

A new, small study in Eating Behaviors is the first to document how fussy eating develops in the same individuals over time into early adulthood and may provide a crumb (sorry) of comfort for anxious parents. It’s true that 60 per cent of fussy eating children in the study were also fussy eaters at age 23, but fussy eating young adults were no more likely to report signs of eating disorder than their non-fussy peers.

Continue reading “The first study to see if fussy-eating children grow into fussy-eating adults”

Teens reject junk food when healthy eating is framed as rebellion

Fit young woman fighting off fast foodBy guest blogger Julia Gottwald

Crisps, coke, and chocolate bars. What might be a special treat for some of us, is now a multi-billion pound industry and a staple of many people’s diets. Advertising campaigns from the snack food companies, often starring sports stars, send the message that we can offset any adverse effects of consuming their products simply by getting more physical exercise. But you can’t really “run off” a burger – recent studies show a lack of exercise is not to blame for rising obesity rates, bad diets are the real driver.

Interventions to help reduce junk food consumption are especially important for children and adolescents – prevention is better than cure in this context because obesity is so difficult to treat. Unfortunately, while health education in the classroom has shown some success among young children, adolescents have been notoriously hard to reach.

But now a large-scale study published in PNAS has tried an innovative approach to change teenagers’ attitudes towards healthy eating, and the results are promising. The researchers, led by Christopher Bryan at the University of Chicago and David Yeager at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that previous interventions have probably been unsuccessful because of a major flaw: they focused on a future, healthier you and assumed that this would be enough motivation for adolescents. In contrast, the new intervention cleverly exploits teenagers’ instinct for rebelliousness and autonomy, and the value they place on social justice. Continue reading “Teens reject junk food when healthy eating is framed as rebellion”

By age three, girls already show a preference for thin people

These days it’s hard to avoid the message that thin is best. From advertising billboards to the Oscar red carpet, we are inundated with images of successful ultra-thin women.

Past research has already shown that this ideal is filtering through to our children, even preschoolers. But before now, there has been little study of just how early pro-thin bias (and prejudice against fat people) appears, and how it develops with age.

Jennifer Harriger tested 102 girls from the South Western US, aged between three and five. She first asked the girls to consider 12 adjectives (six positive and six negative, including nice, smart, mean stupid) and to allocate each one to whichever of three female figures they felt the adjective was most suited. The precise wording was “Point to the girl that you think is/has …”. Crucially, one of the female figures was very thin, one was very fat, and the other average, with no other differences between them. Three-year-olds, four-year-olds and five-year-olds all tended to allocate more negative adjectives to the fat figure and more positive adjectives to the thin figure.

Another test involved the children looking at nine figures (three fat, three average and three thin) and choosing their first three preferences for playmates, and finally to choose their best friend from the selection. Children at all ages tended to choose a thin figure for their first choice, a thin or average for the second choice, with no bias in their third choice. Best friend choices tended to be thin.

Age differences were few, but there was some evidence that three-year-olds were showing more of a bias for thinness, as opposed to a bias against fat people, with fat prejudice increasing with age. For example, only the youngest girls allocated more negative adjectives to average and fat figures than to the thin figures, consistent with their believing “thin is good” rather than “fat is bad”.

The research needs to be replicated in other countries, with boys, and with even younger children. Harriger also noted that it would be interesting to look at the influence of children’s own weight and the beliefs of their parents, siblings and peers. For now, she said her findings illustrated “an increasing preference for thinness and intolerance for fatness in preschool age girls …” and that the promotion of size acceptance “must begin even earlier than we once believed.”

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Harriger, J. (2014). Age Differences in Body Size Stereotyping in a Sample of Preschool Girls Eating Disorders, 23 (2), 177-190 DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2014.964610

further reading
Video protects girls from the negative effects of looking at ultra-thin models
Five-year-old girls who want to be thin
Nine-month-olds prefer looking at unattractive (read: normal) male bodies
How do women and girls feel when they see sexualised or sporty images of female athletes?
Magazine reports on eating disorders are superficial and misleading

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest