If you are someone that inhales lunch at top speed, you might want to consider dining with slow-eating friends. A recent study by Roel Hermans of the Behavioural Science Institute of Radboud University Nijmegen shows that, when dining in pairs, people tend to match the pace of the person eating across from them. This matching is called ‘Behavior Mimicry.’
“Behavioral mimicry refers to a process in which a person unwittingly imitates the behavior of another person. Research has shown that individuals automatically mimic many aspects of the people with whom they interact, including their postures, gestures, mannerisms, and speech accents.” said the researchers. Past studies on modeling behaviors in eating reveal that the action of one person can influence that of another, but Hermans was interested in the cycle of influence between two participants. “If the two of us eat together,” he explains, “my eating behaviour can influence yours, but your reaction can then also influence my behaviour. It’s a perpetual chain of reactions.” (via Science Daily).
The participants included seventy young women women (average age of participants was just under 22 years old) who were set up in a mock-restaurant in dining pairs. The members of each pair did not know one another prior to the study. The women were served a full meal and had no restrictions on how much or how little to eat, and researchers watched the women chow down from an adjacent room via hidden camera. Hermans and colleagues monitored mimicry behaviors based on the bites of food taken and the timing of the bites, which were meticulously recorded.
The researchers found that the women were more likely to take a bite at the same time that their eating partner was taking a bite compared to the moments in which the partner was not eating. Further, timing mattered. The women were nearly three times as likely to copy eating behavior at the beginning of the meal compared to the end.
There are different theories of why we model certain behaviors and what external factors might enhance or deter modeling, and Hermans and colleagues note that research on eating behavior is complex because of these myriad factors. The research is also limited to the behavior of young women and thus results cannot necessarily be applied to women of advanced age nor men. Still, this study is important in its implications for healthy eating behaviors, mindful eating, weight loss, and overall health. So if you have a goal of slowing down your rate of noshing, who you share meals with might make a difference.
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