Imagine you go out to eat lunch with an overweight friend. Will you eat more because of him? Who will influence whom about food choices?
The Hypothetic Freedom Of Choice
Cornell University and Mayo Clinic researchers asked themselves the same question.
To find out, they took 82 college students, divided them into four groups and had them eat a lunch consisting of spaghetti and salad.
How much they picked of each was up to them. Or was it?
You Don’t Eat Before The Fat Lady Does
Taking part in each group was an actress that always served herself first.With two crucial differences in her choices and appearance:
- For the first group she was wearing a fat suit and chose more salad than spaghetti.
- For the second group she was wearing the same suit, but chose more spaghetti than salad.
- For the third group she didn’t wear the suit and chose more spaghetti.
- And for the fourth group she didn’t wear the suit either, but now picked more salad.
The results revealed that no matter what the actress picked when she wearing the fat suit, 31.6% of the participants ate more pasta. Even worse, the others ate 43.6% less salad when she wore the fat suit and salad was her prime choice.
My hunch is that seeing the “overweight” person eat salad gave the normal weight participants the idea that she ate them because “she has to.” That they, on the other hand, can afford to make a more calorie-laden food choice.
We, The Social (Or Racist?) Animals
We humans are social animals and at the most basic level that’s all the study showed: we look at others to set up a system of reference to aid our decisions.
Nonetheless the study unleashed a torrent of critic, with the more easily excitable commenters going as far as calling it “racism,” because it tells people “don’t eat with your fat friends.”
Far from it, the authors simply suggest that we are easily influenced by our surroundings. That it’s important to commit to your food choices before entering a restaurant and not make them on the spot. Kinda like having a shopping list before you go to the grocery store.
Picture courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture.