Finally, an explanation as to why so many people tend to eat more food at social gatherings than in any other situation.
A new study shows that individuals who tend to be people-pleasers were found more likely to eat equal amounts of food as their peers, or more in order to make others feel comfortable, as compared to those who care less about making others happy.
The study examined 100 college students who were required to take a questionnaire to assess their sociotropy, a personality trait associated with people-pleasing. The students who scored high in people-pleasing categories were those who said they ‘tended to put others’ needs before their own, worried about hurting others, and were sensitive to criticism, among other behaviors.’
Upon completing the questionnaire, researchers had the students sit with a female actor who was posing as a participant in the study. Researchers first handed a bowl of M&Ms to the actor who collected a small amount of candy (about five M&Ms), and then offered the bowl to the participants. After the students had taken their desired amount of candy, they reported how many they took and why.
What they found was that participants who had high people-pleasing scores took more candy, not only in the laboratory experiment, but also in a second study involving a similar set-up in a real-life eating situation. Once researchers assessed the participants’ actions and thought process, they concluded that people-pleasers were likely to take candy based on a feeling or need to make their peers feel comfortable.
Study researcher Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said, “People-pleasers feel more intense pressure to eat when they believe that their eating will help another person feel more comfortable. Almost everyone has been in a situation in which they’ve felt this pressure, but people-pleasers seem especially sensitive to it.”
While this study looked specifically at eating habits, Exline said the same behaviors that effect the amount of food a person eats can also affect other areas of life, including academics, athletics and relationships. This is because, she says, people-pleasers have a strong desire to avoid posing a threat to other people, which is why they tend to put extra energy into trying to keep others feel at ease.
This is an eye-opening study for people who admit their dieting downfall comes when navigating the food options at social gatherings. I can personally relate to this dilemma, even as a person with mild people-pleasing tendencies. This is why it’s important for me to have a game plan before going to a party, such as snacking before I go so I’m not as hungry, or carrying around a glass of water so I’m not tempted to keep my hands busy with food.