Just Thinking about Comfort Foods Can Reduce Loneliness

Based on a new study, these words do significantly more than whet our appetite. They fulfill our hunger for social connection.

Unhealthy Delicious Poutine with French Fries

The study, published online a week ago by the journal Psychological Science, explored the emotional explanations why comfort foods make us feel so good.

The outcome suggest a powerful link between comfort foods and the comfort we get from family members; actually, simply thinking about comfort foods can make us feel considerably less lonely.

In the research, researchers at the University of Buffalo asked undergraduate students to write about a fight with a loved one—an effort to produce these students feel socially vulnerable and threatened. Then they had some of the students reveal a convenience food of theirs, while others were asked to write about a new food they’d prefer to try. Afterward, most of the students done a survey that recorded how lonely they felt at the moment.

The researchers, Jordan Troisi and Shira Gabriel, discovered that students who thought about their comfort food felt considerably less lonely compared to the students who thought about a new food.

However, this was true limited to the students who were able to form close, secure relationships with others—something that had been assessed earlier in the study. For folks who had a tougher time forming secure connections to others, comfort foods didn’t have the same effect.

Based on their results, Troisi and Gabriel argue that folks associate comfort foods with close friends and family, oftentimes because those foods were originally eaten with (or prepared by) our family members; the memory of the person and the memory of the food become intertwined. And it’s these associations with family members that make comfort foods so Comfort food’s as though the foods develop into a surrogate for the people we hold dear.

“Therefore, the physiological experience of ingesting, as well as thinking about ingesting, comfort food automatically activates the ability of psychological comfort that was basically encoded along with the food,” the authors write.

But when people don’t find much comfort in their relationships to start with—that has been the case for some of the study participants—comfort foods won’t have the ability to work their magic.

In another experiment they ran with a different band of undergrads, Troisi and Gabriel found further proof the hyperlink between comfort foods and relationships.

Some students in this experiment ate chicken soup, some didn’t; then most of the students completed a job by which they had to insert missing letters into word fragments. What could either be completed to spell words connected with relationships (e.g., like, include, welcome) or non-relationship words.

On the list of students who’d previously said they considered chicken soup to become a comfort food, students who ate chicken soup were significantly more likely to spell relationship words than were students who hadn’t eaten the soup. Their comfort food had made them think about their relationships, perhaps subconsciously, suggest the researchers.

Students who didn’t consider chicken soup to become a comfort food weren’t more likely to spell relationship words, whether or not they’d eaten the soup or not.

Taken together, these results claim that it’s not simply the taste or texture of comfort foods giving them their power; oahu is the social and emotional associations they conjure up for us.

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