Mimicking Your Companion’s Eating Behavior

Mimicking Your Companion’s Eating Behavior

Do You Mimic Your Meal Partner?

A study was conducted involving women who mimicked bite for bite the eating behavior of their dining acquaintance.

Many studies before have actually shown that when people eat a meal together, the tendency for an individual is to eat about the same amount as the other dining companion.

Now, this study is similar to the previous studies but this time the participants are women who do not know each other previously. Still, they mimic the other person’s eating behavior, including the timing of bites.

What is Behavioral Mimicry?

R.C.J. Hermans, the leader of the research study from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, said that they were doing this study to find out the underlying mechanism of the participants’ behavior, which they specifically called behavioral mimicry.

Hermans and his group conducted a study on 70 pairs of women while they were eating together and took note of their bites  —  4,000 in all. Afterward, they analyzed the data to determine if there was really mimicking. The experts’ definition of behavioral mimicry is unwittingly imitating another person’s behavior.

In the case of this study, the observers had to count and be sure that a person’s bite is followed by the other person’s bite within 5 seconds. The mimicry is true for both parties and it was more pronounced when the meal was just starting.

Explanations Regarding This Behavior

Although the researchers did not check if the mimicking was deliberate or not, Hermans believe that the behavioral mimicry was an unconscious action as previous researches show. Also, previous studies indicate that people aren’t really aware that their food intake is affected by social influences.

Social Connection

Another observation is that the women were looking at the way the other women were eating to keep a similar pattern. It’s their way of connecting socially with someone who they only met for the first time.

This view might explain the decline of mimicry as they progressed with their meal. It could be that they have already felt socially connected to each other.

The professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, Dr. Rick Hoyle, said that this new study is necessary to build upon the findings of old research.

The fact that the women who were eating together do not know each other is a key to interpreting the results. According to old research, mimicry also occurs to address the need of people to affiliate. The findings of this new research support this idea. So, there’s significantly more mimicry during the first 10 minutes of interaction.

Perhaps another angle of this study is to find out if the mimicry pattern is still the same when the meal is shared between friends.

For or Against Weight Loss

Now, what does this have to do with weight loss? Should you choose the person you eat with based on how much or how little he or she eats?

I don’t think you should do that. Eating with someone is a part of our social life and we should not change the positive aspects of it.

If you are trying to lose some pounds, it would help if you keep yourself aware of mimicry. What this might mean to you is before you eat a dessert or any food, ask yourself first if that is what you really want or if you just want it because other people want it.

You should know that mimicry is common and non-conscious, that is why you tend to mimic other people at meal times, especially if you are eating mindlessly. Therefore, the key to avoid this trap of mimicry is to eat mindfully. Focus on the food and what you feel when you eat it.

Now, you can use this mimicry to your advantage. If you know that your companion is eating little, and you want to lose weight, then by all means yield to the behavioral mimicry.

Photo credits: “Couple eating lunch” by Bill Branson (Photographer). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

Categories: Nutrition

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