It is a bit ironic: While Americans look at Mediterranean and Asian cuisine to live healthier and lose weight, immigrants to the US switch to American-style eating to show they fit in.
“You Eat That?”
Researchers surveyed Asian-American and Caucasian college students about their experiences with food during childhood. Of the Asian-Americans, 68% recalled embarrassing situations when eating around non-Asian peers. High on the list were feeling awkwardness about using chopsticks and having to eat parts of an animal that Caucasians often consider disgusting – fish eyes, chicken feet and pork head.
In comparison, only 27% of the white respondents remembered situations where they felt as awkward about eating in front of others.
After this preliminary survey, two studies were conducted, each having a condition to make Asian-Americans feel insecure about their “Americanness”.
In the first study, a white researcher requested Asian-American participants to write down their favorite foods, after asking half of them if they spoke English. In the second, Asian-Americans were given the task to select something to eat from the menu of either an Asian or American restaurant, but before being given this request, some of them were told that they “have to be an American to be in this study”.
The results were interesting: 75% of those Asian-Americans asked about their English skills mentioned a typical American food as their favorite dish, compared to only 25% in those whose skills weren’t questioned. For Caucasians the question made no difference in their preferences. And 60% of the Asian-Americans who were told that “only Americans” can participate in that study chose items from the American restaurant’s menu.
Detailed results will be published in the June issue of Psychological Science, but Maya Guendelman, Sapna Cheryan and Benoit Monin, the researchers behind these studies and themselves immigrants, already said that participants who felt threatened about their status on average consumed 182 kcal more, just to prove that they belong.
The Pressure To Fit In
It is not only immigrants who make unwise decisions based on what others will think about them – we all are prone to it, because we don’t exist in a vacuum and want to fit in.
If you are a college student, you are more likely to heavily drink on weekends if your friends engage in binge drinking as well. If you are a stay-at-home mom and nobody in your social circle works out, then you can’t help feeling ridiculous if you want to try it. And if your buddies on the football team do steroids, it hurts when they tell you you are a snob, because you don’t want to.
To conform is a lubricant that often works in our advantage, because it keeps society as a whole running. When you never saw a red light in your life, it’s a good idea to ape those around you, that wait for that light to turn green. But sometimes it also does pay to question what you do and why you do it.