Chicken soup for the soul: Comfort food fights loneliness

March 21, 2011

Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf…they may be bad for your arteries, but according to an upcoming study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, they're good for your heart and emotions. The study focuses on "comfort food" and how it makes people feel.

"For me personally, food has always been big in my family," says Jordan Troisi, a graduate student at the University of Buffalo. The study came out of the research program of his co-author Shira Gabriel, which has looked at social surrogates—things that make people feel like they belong. Some people counteract loneliness by bonding with their favorite TV show, building virtual relationships with a celebrity or a movie character, or looking at pictures and mementos of loved ones. Troisi and Gabriel wondered if food could have the same effect by making people think of their nearest and dearest.

In one experiment, the researchers tried to make some participants feel lonely by having them write for six minutes about a fight with someone close to them. Others were given an emotionally neutral writing assignment. Then, some people in each group wrote about the experience of eating a comfort food and others wrote about eating a new food. Finally, the researchers used a questionnaire to measure loneliness.

Writing about a fight with a close person made people feel lonely. But people who were generally secure in their relationships—something that was assessed before the experiment—were able to rescue themselves from loneliness by writing about a comfort food. "What we found is that people have the capacity to create a comfort food for themselves by having it be something that's consistently associated with their close others," says Troisi. In their essays on comfort food, many people wrote about the experience of eating food with family and friends.

In another experiment, eating chicken soup in the lab made people think more about relationships if they considered chicken soup to be a comfort food. They'd been asked about that a long time before the experiment, along with a lot of other questions, so they wouldn't remember it.

"Throughout everyone's daily lives they experience stress, often associated with our connections with others," Troisi says. "This is sort of a ready-made easy resource for remedying a sense of . It seems like it almost doesn't take very much to regain those feelings and feel like we're connected with others."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Dutch courage—Alcohol improves foreign language skills

October 18, 2017
A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King's College London, shows that bilingual speakers' ability to speak a second ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.