Science confirms it: Food really does bring us together
Eating the same food as someone you've just met can help build trust and closeness.
Here's some literal "food for thought," brought to you by a team of social science experts at the University of Chicago: If you're eating the same food as someone you're doing business with, you're more likely to establish a rapport with that person than if you were eating different foods.
That's according to a new study led by Israeli-born professor Ayelet Fishbach, recently published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Fishbach and her colleagues found that eating similar foods, whether it's a snack during an investment meeting or a meal at a labor negotiation, promotes trust and closeness between strangers.
"People tend to think that they use logic to make decisions, and they are largely unaware that food preferences can influence their thinking," Fishbach said. "On a very basic level, food can be used strategically to help people work together and build trust."
Fishbach – who earned her undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees at Israel's Tel Aviv University – has been studying human behavior for years and is considered an expert in motivation and decision making. Previously, she partnered with Dr. Oliver Sheldon of Rutgers University to find out what makes otherwise good people make bad choices.
For the food study, Fishbach organized participants into pairs, then set up an investment game where each pair played the role of a fund manager doing business with a potential investor. Some pairs were assigned to eat the same candy before the game, while others ate different candy. The researchers discovered that the participants gave more money to the strangers when they had eaten the same type of candy.
And since every good study contains a comparative, Fishbach took this one a step further by putting shirt color in place of food. Would two people trust each other more if they were wearing the same color shirt?
The answer, in short, is no. The participants did not trust the similar shirt-wearer more than another shirt-wearer, regardless of the color.
"I think food is powerful because it is something that we put into our bodies and we need to trust it in order to do that," Fishbach says. "I hope our research will be used to connect people and facilitate conflict resolution."
So the next time you're out on a first date, instead of frantically scanning the menu to pick the meal that won't spoil your breath or leave pieces of spinach in your teeth, consider keeping it simple: "I'll have what she's having."
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