Social facilitation of food: why we eat more while being with friends

It’s easy to realize that we generally eat more when we are in the company of friends than when we are alone.

But what is the underlying phenomenon? With this article we will find out who is the social facilitation of foodWhat is its explanation, in which circumstances it has the most effect and in which, on the contrary, it is attenuated.

    What is the social facilitation of food?

    Social facilitation of eating is the psychological phenomenon by which being accompanied by friends, family or acquaintances while we eat makes us tend to eat more compared to what we would do if we were alone or in the company of strangers. According to this principle, while we are alone, we will have light meals or at least less copious than we would if we were surrounded by people around us.

    The reader may be surprised and even against the social facilitation of food hypothesis, but just remember and think about what (or how much) we had dinner the last time we had it in company. of a group of friends, and compare it to what we usually eat every night with the only company of ourselves, at home (in case we lived alone).

    In fact, studies in this regard have even managed to capture in one figure the difference in intake that occurs between the two situations. According to these findings, we would eat 48% more than usual when we did it under the shelter of a group of friends. Several explanations have been given to the question trying to find the logic behind the social facilitation of eating. We will explore some of them in the following points.

    In 2019, the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology, led by Dr Helen Ruddock, published a meta-study in which data from 42 previous articles on the social facilitation of eating were collected. This research was a great enrichment around this concept and allowed us to know more in depth what are its characteristics.

    Evolutionary hypothesis: the equitable distribution of limited resources

    A curious explanation of this phenomenon is evolutionary. According to this theory, the social facilitation of food would have its origin in the way of feeding that the human being showed at the time of the Paleolithic and the MesolithicIn other words, when societies were hunters and gatherers. In this context, food was scarce and several meals a day (sometimes not even one) were guaranteed.

    Given these harsh conditions, getting food for the group became a social event for the whole tribe, and they all ate together as much as they could, as they didn’t know when it would be the next time. they would have the opportunity to eat again. . ” obtain prey or harvest enough fruit to allow them to feed again, sharing the group experience.

    It could be a social event or just the intention to eat as much of the available food as possible before others eat it, as we are talking about a situation where these foods were extremely scarce and their access was therefore very limited. The logic is to think that, being in front of a source of nutrition, the individual would try to acquire the maximum of it as soon as possible, since once exhausted, he would not know when he would find more.

    Therefore, the evolutionary hypothesis would explain the social facilitation of eating as behavior that would have been etched in some way into our unconscious behavioral tendencies and that it would take us back to a bygone era where eating in groups was synonymous with trying to be full to overcome the time of famine that was to come and we wouldn’t know how long that could last.

      Eating in the company of strangers

      However, being in a group, eating alongside other human beings is not enough for the social facilitation effect of food to appear automatically. There is one detail that is essential, and that’s it these people must be close to us, Because otherwise the effect does not appear. In these cases, the opposite occurs, and is that people tend not to eat a lot to give a more positive image.

      This may be due to the fact that we are trying to show an image that is too impulsive, and in the culinary context we want to make it clear, in front of strangers, that we are able to control ourselves and eat only what is necessary, without falling in excess. Outraged, this effect is observed especially in certain groups, As shown by studies conducted in this regard.

      The first would be that of women eating next to unknown men, otherwise. The data shows that they care more than controlling their food intake. While the explanation is unclear, one hypothesis suggests that what this behavior would seek is the unconscious approval of its hosts, through its obvious control over impulses.

      The second case in which we can observe the phenomenon contrary to the social facilitation of food is in that of overweight people who eat with others they do not have a close connection with (What’s the key to getting there). As in the previous hypothesis, research reveals that these people tend to eat significantly less food than when they are in the company of their closest group.

      Therefore, it is inferred that there are certain groups, such as women and obese people (and perhaps one that has not yet been taken into account in studies to date) where stereotypes, fear of being judged and other variables would carry more weight when it comes to generating an attitude towards food than the social facilitation of the food itself.

      The problem of social facilitation of food today

      However, what in ancient times could have been a very effective system for ensuring that no member of the tribe went hungry when food was available would pose a new problem today. And does the social facilitation of food this can be very useful when food resources are limitedBut today, where you can find all the food you want at any time, the situation is very different.

      What we find today is a context in which leisure lunches and dinners in the company of family and friends are synonymous with partying and generally overeating. Meetings are frequent in which the participants, between laughter and conversation, keep eating appetizers, main courses, desserts and large amounts of drinks, constituting an amount of calories extremely higher than necessary.

      If this is an isolated event, it may not be a problem, Beyond a heavy digestion more than safe (or a good hangover, if the excess has also taken the route of alcohol). However, if these encounters become commonplace throughout the week, there is a good chance that we will start to suffer after effects in our body, and it can affect our body mass index, but also our metabolism or our cholesterol.

      If we find ourselves immersed in this kind of dynamic, it is best that we be aware of it and limit our consumption to what our bodies need, trying to keep up with the surge of social facilitation of food. Of course, this behavior can (and should) be accompanied by healthy exercise routines, even if it consists only of having a habit of taking a walk every day.

      What we must avoid at all costs is to fall into a habitual sedentary state, because if we are used to attending lunches and dinners with our friends, the social facilitation of food can thus establish a combination. fatal to our health.

      Behavior in other species

      The study of Social facilitation of eating was not limited to humans. Some work has focused on observe the feeding behaviors of species as diverse as rats or chickens, Others. In them, this phenomenon has also been observed, and has given rise to different hypotheses on the function that could be fulfilled there.

      Some researchers suggest that in these individuals, to eat in groups, an internal confrontation would occur. The reasoning would be that, on the one hand, they would tend to get all the food possible, before the others did the same, but on the other hand, they would try to refrain from being “reported” by their fellows. and therefore isolated from the group.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Acuña, L., GARCíA, DAG, Bruner, CA (2011). The effect of the presence of a number of people in different social situations. Mexican Journal of Psychology.
      • Bruner, California (2010). Eating behavior: common variables across conditioning and motivation. Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis.
      • Ruddock, HK, Brunstrom, JM, Vartanian, LR, Higgs, S. (2019). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the social facilitation of eating. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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