Just in time for American Thanksgiving, a small U.S. study conducted by behavioral scientists has found evidence that suggests men are likely to eat more and perhaps even overindulge at the dinner table when women are present.
The study took place at an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet where researchers observed various tables and collected data from restaurant patrons. Researchers found that men who dined with at least one woman present at their table ate 93 percent more than those who did not.
“We (found) that while men disproportionately over-eat in the company of women, women felt like they overate and felt rushed when eating with men even though there was no evidence that they actually ate more,” said Kevin Kniffin of the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University.
Kniffin, who acted as the study’s lead author, also pointed out that although men who had female dining companions were prone to grabbing seconds, they also often made healthier food choices: salad was likely to be on the menu (86 percent of the time).
Men dining with women, on average, ate three slices of pizza and five bowls of salad. Men who dined with just their male peers ate much less. They ate three bowls of salad and 1.5 slices of pizza less than previously mentioned.
Meanwhile, women who dined with other women ate more salad than pizza in comparison to when they dined with men, which is when pizza was more likely to be chosen.
Kniffen believes that this is likely due to some subconscious form of social posturing; men might be eating excessively in order to showcase their “biological fitness” and appear more attractive to potential mates. This sort of behavior may be risky or unhealthy, but it might also be interpreted as an ability to endure self-inflicted pain on a regular basis while maintaining good physical health.
Clinical nutritionist Samantha Heller, who was not part of the study, also believes that assuming men eat more in the presence of women might be “a bit of a stretch” and believes that other factors are likely involved.
The researchers also acknowledged the limitations in their study including the small size of the study itself, the social context for the meals (ie: lunch dates versus business meetings, etc), the tab (who is paying), and the presence of nerves and other personal feelings.
Though Heller was skeptical of the study’s findings, she does believe that it is important to be mindful of one’s own diet and personal health: “There is never any reason to stuff one’s self into a food coma. It’s tough on the body in many ways and never leaves one feeling energized, healthy, or in the case of the male-female relationship, sexy,” she said in article posted by Reuters Health.
Kniffen echoed a similar sentiment: “People should calm down when eating with members of the opposite sex.”