Why We Eat Junk Food

While we may presume that we are eating junk food because of the delicious taste, new research undertaken at the University of Southern California, has disputed this theory. Indeed, scientists have found that we’re indulging in these snacks because of their yumminess but rather because of how we associate these foods. For example, since we often eat popcorn at the movie theater, that’s a fun, positive association so we will continue to eat it as it becomes a comfort food. So we’re not eating it for the taste.

The Research

The research was undertaken by giving movie-theater-goers fresh and stale popcorn. The ones who were accused to eating popcorn at the movies ended up eating around the same amount of popcorn, whether it was fresh or stale. Those who didn’t really eat much popcorn at the movies consumed way less of the stale type than the fresh due to the taste. For them, taste was much more important. And for the others – the ones who were accustomed to movie snacking, they didn’t care so much about the taste.

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USC researcher Wendy Wood explained, “people believe their eating behavior is largely activated by how food tastes. Nobody likes cold, spongy, week-old popcorn. But once we’ve formed an eating habit, we no longer care whether the food tastes good. We’ll eat exactly the same amount, whether it’s fresh or stale.”

The study was published in this month’s Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.


James Fishman has been involved in the world of online magazines for more than 15 years. He helped launch Sunstone Online and continues to improve the magazine as site editor and administrator. His writing focuses primarily business and technology. To be in touch with James, feel free to contact him at james[at]sunstoneonline.com.

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