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60-Second Mind

Overeating Depends on Context

Research has found that ritual and context influences us to eat too much with no regard for quality. Christie Nicholson reports

At a ball game, you have a hot dog. And at a movie you have popcorn. And you may keep working on that popcorn long after you realize that this batch really isn’t so good. Why?

Scientists analyzed two groups of movie-goers, those who eat popcorn regularly at theaters and those who don’t. The subjects were offered either fresh just-popped popcorn or week-old popcorn. The ones who don’t usually eat popcorn ate much less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn. But the habitual popcorn eaters gobbled just as much stale stuff as fresh. The study is in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Environmental cures might be a cause for this kind of overeating. Because when
offered the two kinds of popcorn in a meeting room, as opposed to the movie
theater, the popcorn eaters were picky, choosing fresh popcorn over stale.

And here’s a neat twist: the researchers had movie goers eat both fresh and stale
popcorn using their non-dominant hand. And suddenly the popcorn lovers did care
about the taste—they ate much less of the stale popcorn than the fresh popcorn. Yes,
eating with your other hand may be awkward. But it beats eating old food.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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