Comfort food fallacy: Upheaval leads to less-familiar choices

September 21, 2009

You'd think in times of uncertainty, people would gravitate toward familiar favorites. But a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that stress and upheaval actually lead people to choose less-familiar foods over "comfort foods."

"Most of us can name our favorite 'comfort foods' and believe that we are most prone to seek them out during times of stress and upheaval," writes author Stacy Wood (University of South Carolina). "Contrary to this well-engrained belief, this research shows the surprising result that our choices of old favorites happen at the opposite times that we predict."

In the first study, participants were told about a person who was described as either being in an extremely stable life situation or in the midst of many changes. Researchers asked them to predict whether these people would choose a popular American potato chip or an unknown British potato "crisp" in exotic flavors like Camembert and Plum. The participants thought the stable person would have more time and energy to try new things and would choose the new item.

Then in a separate choice study, researchers asked participants to rate the level of change in their own lives and then to choose snacks. Those experiencing more change chose the newer snacks. "This result is called the 'comfort food fallacy' effect. It does not say that comfort foods are not enjoyable, but rather that we don't seem to seek them out when we think we do. Contrary to our expectations, comfort foods appear to be chosen more often in comfortable times."

The results also carried over to non-food options, such as song downloads and movies. And, in a final study, the author found that by manipulating the perceived level of change in a person's life, the likelihood of choosing a new item was also manipulated.

The study has broad implications for people contemplating life changes. "Many people believe they shouldn't try too many new things at once. For example, they may believe that a time of change is not a good time to start a new exercise program. This research suggests that a time of change (new job, new town, new situation) may be an ideal time to adopt desired changes because we are inherently more open to new options then," Wood concludes.

More information: Stacy Wood. "The Fallacy: Avoiding Old Favorites in Times of Change." : April 2010 (published online September 8, 2009).

Source: University of Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: Does mood matter? How you feel influences what you'll buy, says study

Related Stories

Categories help us make happier choices

July 17, 2008

Most of us have stood in a supermarket aisle, overwhelmed with the array of choices. Making those choices is easier if the options are categorized, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.