Lost your appetite? Try inviting yourself to dinner

June 8, 2017
A woman is eating popcorn alone in front of a mirror, or a monitor displaying a wall or her static image. People reported the popcorn as tasting better, and consumed more of it, when they ate it in front of a mirror, or even a picture of themselves eating, than when they ate it in front of the monitor displaying a wall. Credit: Nagoya University

People rate food as tasting better, and eat more of it, when they eat with company than when they eat alone. This so-called "social facilitation of eating" is a well-established phenomenon; however, exactly what it is about company that produces the effect is not clear.

Now, researchers at Nagoya University have discovered that the same effect can be achieved in individuals eating alone simply by providing a to reflect them while they eat. The study was published in Physiology & Behavior.

"We wanted to find out what the minimum requirement is for the social facilitation of eating," lead author Ryuzaburo Nakata says. "Does another person have to actually be physically present, or is information suggesting the presence of others sufficient?" The researchers found that people eating alone reported as tasting better, and ate more of it, when they could see themselves reflected in a mirror, compared with when they ate in front of a monitor displaying an image of a wall.

The research team initially worked with a group of older adult volunteers. Approaches to enhance enjoyment of food in people eating without company are particularly relevant for elderly people, because research has shown that many frequently eat alone. However, when the team repeated the experiment with young adult volunteers, they observed the same "social" facilitation of eating when a mirror was present, suggesting that the effect is not limited to older people.

In a further experiment, when the researchers replaced the mirror with photos of the volunteers eating, they discovered that the volunteers still experienced an increase in the appeal of food and ate more. Thus, perhaps surprisingly, a static image of a person eating seems sufficient to produce the "social" facilitation of eating.

"Studies have shown that for , enjoying food is associated with quality of life, and frequently eating alone is associated with depression and loss of appetite," corresponding author Nobuyuki Kawai says. "Our findings therefore suggest a possible approach to improving the appeal of food, and quality of life, for who do not have when they eat—for example, those who have suffered loss or are far away from their loved ones."

Explore further: Mirrors can make unhealthy foods less tasty

More information: Ryuzaburo Nakata et al, The "social" facilitation of eating without the presence of others: Self-reflection on eating makes food taste better and people eat more, Physiology & Behavior (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.05.022

Related Stories

Mirrors can make unhealthy foods less tasty

December 17, 2015
People often choose the unhealthy food because they think it is tastier. Aiming for solutions promoting healthy eating practices and ultimately combating obesity, this research shows that the presence of a mirror in a consumption ...

Stop sabotaging your diet

May 11, 2017
(HealthDay)—You could be standing in the way of your own weight loss, eating more calories than you realize. Here's how to keep your head in the game.

Beware of claims that mindful eating will help you lose weight

March 30, 2017
Mindful eating is increasingly being promoted as a solution to being overweight. Mindful eating, we are promised, will help us eat less, transform our relationship with food and end our battle with weight once and for all. ...

Food ads significantly influence eating behavior, says study

January 13, 2016
How greatly does food advertising influence eating behavior? Quite a bit, a new Yale University meta-analysis of 45 studies suggests. The results, the authors say, should rekindle efforts to restrict food industry advertising, ...

Research finds social influence can prompt healthier eating choices

July 12, 2016
Researchers from the University of Birmingham have found that exposure to social-based messages promoting healthy eating can increase consumption of fruit and vegetables and reduce consumption of high-calorie snacks. It has ...

Social eating leads to overeating, especially among men

December 6, 2016
Gorging at a holiday meal or friend's BBQ might have more to do with your ego than the quality of the food—especially if you're a man.

Recommended for you

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

Older men need more protein to maintain muscles

November 21, 2017
The amount of protein recommended by international guidelines is not sufficient to maintain muscle size and strength in older men, according to a new study.

Exercising and eating well are greater contributors to health than standing at work

November 21, 2017
By now you've probably heard the edict from the health community: Sitting is the new smoking. Perhaps you've converted to a standing desk, or maybe you have a reminder on your phone to get up once an hour and walk around ...

Motorcycle crashes cause five times as many deaths as car accidents, six times the health costs

November 20, 2017
Motorcycle accidents are costly in terms of lives and health care costs. Compared with car accidents, motorcycle accidents cause 3 times the injuries, 6 times the medical costs and 5 times the deaths, found new research in ...

Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

November 17, 2017
A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower ...

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.