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Exploring Comfort Food Preferences Across Gender and Age

Wansink, Brian, Matthew M. Cheney, and Nina Chan (2003). Exploring Comfort Food Preferences Across Gender and AgePsychology and Behavior, 79(4–5), 739–747. doi: 10.1016/S0031–9384(03)00203–8

Does preference for comfort foods vary across age and gender? We conducted two studies to examine the physiological and psychological motivations behind food preferences in order to answer this question. We randomly contacted 411 Americans via mail and asked them to describe their favorite comfort food and why it was comforting to them, among other questions. From their responses we concluded that people consider both meal– and snack–related foods to be comfort foods. We followed up this survey with telephone interviews of 1005 randomly chosen Americans. Participants were asked questions regarding the most commonly mentioned comfort foods from Study 1. We found that females preferred snack–related comfort foods and males preferred meal–related comfort foods, but that women were more likely to consider salad or vegetables a comfort food. Young people tended to prefer snack–related foods that were more flavor–saturated and older people tended to prefer meal–related foods that were not necessarily flavor–saturated. Females felt guiltier about eating comfort foods compared to men. The older participants were the more likely they were to believe that snack–related comfort foods made them feel less unhealthy. Consistently, older participants felt less guilty over eating these foods. These findings will drive further research of how physiological and psychological factors influence comfort food preferences and how these preferences then impact subsequent dieting and food consumption habits.

*The study was conducted at the University of Illinois, former location of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.