In a new study, researchers found people eat more with friends and family than when dining alone – a possible throwback to our early ancestors’ approach to survival.
This phenomenon is known as ‘social facilitation’.
The research was led by a team from the University of Birmingham.
Previous studies have found that those eating with others ate up to 48% more food than solo diners and women with obesity eating socially consumed up to 29% more than when eating alone.
In the study, the team found that eating ‘socially’ has a powerful effect on increasing food intake relative to dining alone, after evaluating 42 existing studies of research into social dining.
They explain that ancient hunter-gatherers shared food because it protected against periods of food insecurity.
This survival mechanism may still persist today, leading to people eating more with friends and family because:
Eating with others is a more enjoyable and enhanced reward from social eating could increase consumption;
Social norms might ‘permit’ overeating in a company but sanction it when eating alone;
Providing food becomes linked to praise and recognition from friends and family, strengthening social bonds.
The findings show strong evidence that people eat more food when dining with friends and family than when alone.
However, this social facilitation effect on eating was not observed across studies that had looked at food intake amongst people who were not well acquainted.
The team says people want to convey positive impressions to strangers.
Selecting small portions may provide a means of doing so and this may be why the social facilitation of eating is less pronounced amongst groups of strangers.
The results suggest that people often choose what (and how much) to eat based on the type of impression that we want to convey about ourselves.
Evidence suggests that this may be particularly pronounced for women eating with men they wish to impress and for people with obesity who wish to avoid being judged for overeating.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Helen Ruddock, from the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham.
The study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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