Women and Salads: All for Show
Why do women eat salads on dates? A new study suggests it’s all for show.
Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, observed 469 individuals in 266 groups at three cafeterias on campus. Sitting at a distance of at least 10 meters (damn Canadians and their metric system), the researchers watched these people in a natural setting and recorded how many people were sitting at each table, of what gender the people were, and estimated the caloric content of what each one was eating.
The findings were pretty clear:
1) Females chose foods with signiﬁcantly fewer calories when eating with men rather than women. (Note to Jezebel: word “female” is in the study!)
2) Women’s food choices weren’t affected just by a man being present, but in proportion to how many men were present — more men equaled fewer calories. (More women being present had the opposite effect on women’s calorie consumption.)
3) Neither the size of the group nor the gender make-up seemed much to affect males’ food choices.
Here’s the researchers’ take on this finding:
Our results suggest that the role of conformity in food choice and consumption may be situationally speciﬁc; it is perhaps most relevant for relatively unacquainted persons engaged in impression management, and less so when eating with potential romantic partners. This conjecture jibes with evidence that women’s food consumption affects their feelings of femininity and their own andothers’ impressions of their attractiveness…
There is a large literature suggesting that women, in particular, adjust their eating to accord with consumption stereotypes, specifically that smaller eaters are viewed more favorably. The women we observed adjusted food selection not so as to match men, but perhaps in accordance with beliefs about what men ﬁnd attractive.
This certainly isn’t the only potential explanation. The study notes that the food choices in this setting were made before people sat down at their tables, so it’s not 100% certain that people knew the exact groups they’d be sitting in (though, the patterns observed in the study suggest they had at least some knowledge). And the study design had no way of determining how the people involved knew each other.
Still, the results are suggestive of the women having used their food choices as a signaling mechanism to the men at their tables. I’m actually a little surprised that the men involved didn’t perhaps eat more with women present — as a way of signaling how healthy and manly they were.
Perhaps, though, the consumption stereotypes are wrong and men don’t actually prefer women who eat like birds (it could signal an unhealthy lack of appetite, or an aversion to sensory pleasures). Perhaps women should take Homer Simpson’s advice: You don’t win friends with salad.
Have any alternate theories? Leave them in the comments…
HT: Jena Pincott