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Mood and Gender Relate to the Selection & Intake of Comfort Foods

Wansink, B., Cheney, M.M., & Chan, N. (2003). Exploring comfort food preferences across gender and age. Physiology and Behavior, 79(4-5), 739-747.

Chefs on "America's Top Chef" discuss their favorite comfort foods.

The French have a saying, "there is no accounting for taste." This old proverb has been put to the test. After 20 years and countless studies, the opposite seems to be true: "people's tastes are not formed by accident."

foodandbrandlab@cornell.edu

"Comfort Food". Does this phrase evoke a feeling of warmth inside you? Or does it make you think of the unhealthy foods that you eat because you think they will put you in a better mood? Research findings on comfort food, by Professor Brian Wansink may surprise you. When 1,004 Americans were polled, only about 40% of the respondents reported that their favorite comfort food was somewhat healthy. Potato chips topped the list, and other foods included steak, pasta, salad and soup.

Professor Wansink found that the choice of comfort food depended on many factors, an important one being gender. Overall, women reported their top three comfort foods to be ice cream, chocolate, and cookies, while men chose ice cream, soup and pizza/pasta. The difference in choice is interesting, as it brings some insight into the minds of men and women and the roles they play in society. Men prefer the more 'meal–type' items because this gave them a feeling of being "spoiled" or "taken care of", whereas those same foods reminded women of all the work that went into preparing the meal.

Study participants serve themselves M&M's and then fill out a survey reflecting upon their current state and mood.

Another factor that affected the choice of comfort food was mood. Contrary to popular belief, we tend to eat comfort foods as a reward, and not when we are depressed. About 86% of those surveyed say they seek out comfort foods while they are in a happy mood, as opposed to 36% who say they eat comfort foods when they were depressed. Mood will also affect what type of comfort food you reach for. In one study, 38 secretaries were invited to view one of two movies, one movie was happy and the other was depressing. The outcome of the research indicated that the viewers of the depressing movie ate 38% more hot buttery popcorn compared to the viewers of the happy movie.

Article Summary by Zara Khaleeli
Paper Abstract: (available here)

Brian Wansink, PhD
Food and Brand Lab, Director
110 Warren Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Email: foodandbrandlab@cornell.edu