A team of scientists at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of Information Science conducted an experiment with 16 seniors aged between 65 and 74 and also with 16 university students aged 20 to 23. The subjects were asked to eat salted popcorn and caramel-flavored popcorn for 90 seconds each alone in small rooms, and compare the taste of the popcorn when eating with a mirror in front of them and without. They were then asked to give points to the taste for each time.
Both groups gave higher points to the popcorn — for both flavours — they ate in front of a mirror. The portion of the popcorn they ate was also greater by 5 to 13 percent, regardless of the flavour or age group, when they ate with a mirror than they did without.
According to the team led by Nagoya University researcher Ryuzaburo Nakata and associate professor Nobuyuki Kawai, the phenomenon of performing better in company than alone is called “social facilitation,” and it has been known that people consume more when eating with someone than when eating by themselves. The latest study reveals that the same social facilitation effect can also occur with a person’s own reflection in the mirror.
The team plans to study whether the same effect can be achieved in different environments such as at hospitals, and the causal relationship between the phenomenon and the person’s everyday life.
Nakata says, “More people are eating alone, and especially for elderly people living on their own, meals can become troublesome and they often develop malnutrition. I hope this research helps people increase their quality of life.”
The team’s study was published recently in the science journal Physiology & Behavior.