We all know we need to remember our pleases and thank yous – particularly during the holiday season – but researchers from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business suggest our desire to be polite can backfire. Marketing doctoral student Peggy Liu and professor Gavan Fitzsimons say their experiments show people consider the feelings of fellow diners when selecting what to eat, tending to select more unhealthy foods when they’re with an overweight person.
In one study, participants were asked to choose a snack, either wheat crackers or chocolate chip cookies, for both themselves and a person they had just met. In some cases, the person they met was her normal size (wearing a size 0-2). In front of other participants, the woman wore a body suit which made her appear to be 65 pounds heavier (a size 16).
When the woman was her normal size, participants only chose the same snack about 30% of the time. Almost 60% of the participants chose the same snack for themselves and the woman who appeared to be overweight. Interestingly, participants didn’t overwhelmingly choose one snack over the other when picking for themselves and the overweight woman.
Liu and Fitzsimons say in similar studies participants reported they didn’t want to suggest the overweight person would prefer the cookie, but also didn’t want to send the message that the overweight person should choose the wheat cracker instead.
“What the results show is that people pick the same snack to avoid offending someone they perceive as overweight. This means that people might pick unhealthier options for themselves and others during the holidays if they think not doing so could hurt someone’s feelings,” Fitzsimons said.
“This suggests that if you are heading back to the buffet to cut a piece of pumpkin pie for your overweight uncle, you might also cut a larger piece than normal for yourself, so you don’t hurt his feelings,” Liu said.
We’re not suggesting you should disregard others’ feelings, of course, but it may be a good idea keep this phenomenon in mind. Grabbing that smaller slice of pie for yourself and your overweight uncle might be the best choice for both of you. (He can always have a second piece if he really wants it.)
This holiday season, resolve to eat mindfully and enjoy your friends and family just as much as the food.