My deli-owning dad instinctively knew the power of food. He would never arrive at a social visit without something delicious to share. And right or wrong, he often used food to encourage someone to his point of view. A recent article from the Journal of Consumer Psychology showed me that my dad’s gut instinct was on target.
Researchers from the University of Chicago designed four studies to explore incidental food consumption, and trust and cooperation among strangers. The first study — 76 pairs of college students — was designed to measure trust via an investor/fund manager exercise. Before the money-changing investment occurred, the pairs were given either the same or different candy to eat. The finding was that student investors gave more money to their matched fund manager when the two had eaten the same candy. The researchers identified this as increased trust.
The second study used a mock labor conflict to determine whether eating similar foods increases cooperation. Subjects took the role of manager or union leader. Their goals were increased wages and not having a long strike. The participants were given either sweet or salty foods before the labor negotiation. There was a cover story so subjects did not know the food was part of the experiment. The researchers found that when negotiators on separate sides of an argument consumed similar foods they felt closer and were able to come faster to a mutually acceptable resolution. The final two studies in the article confirmed these results.
If you are going on a date, meeting a perspective client or trying to impress the boss, eating a similar food might be a way to increase the odds of a positive outcome. And although it was not included in this study, I would imagine that cooking with someone and then sharing the meal would be a winning combination for a trusting and cooperative relationship. Never underestimate the power of food.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.