Want To Know Who Ate All The Biscuits? It’s Obvious! It’s That Nice Person who is Always Helping Others

Fascinating research on the link between personality and a sweet tooth has been making the news recently.

A team of psychologists from the US have carried out a set of experiments which clearly suggest a link between a liking for sweet food and a “sweet nature”.

As compared to those who don’t like sweet things to eat, people who do like sweet things score more highly on the trait agreeableness which covers aspects of personality such as friendliness, warmth and cooperativeness.  What is more, these people are more likely to offer help to others in need than those who prefer other tastes.

Apparently the link is also evident to others. When asked to evaluate someone’s personality, if we are told they like sweet foods then we are more likely to say that they are friendly, warm and cooperative than if we think they like savoury foods. The link between cooperation and sweet foods doesn’t stop there. In a further experiment, Dr Brian Meier and his colleagues investigated whether eating something sweet – regardless of preferences – actually influences how agreeable we feel.  Amazingly, people who ate a piece of chocolate were more likely to help others and to see themselves as more friendly than people who ate something savoury.

So this is great news for chocoholics, who probably already knew to be suspicious of anyone who says they don’t like chocolate.  And obviously, for those of us who can polish off a family pack of Maltesers/M&Ms/chocolate digestives in under 30 seconds, this is vindicating evidence at last that we are simply demonstrating and enhancing our innate loveliness…

Leaving this self-congratulation aside however, the research also highlights a fundamental human tendency to ascribe certain characteristics to people on the basis of other, apparently unrelated evidence.  Here, the research reveals that there may be real links between the ascribed characteristics and the observed one, but there are many other intuitive links made in the course of our social interactions which are as yet untested, but which create influential and often self-fulfilling models of other people’s personality. 

For example, as a rule of thumb we might assume that people who enjoy team sports are likely to be competitive, or that people who give to charity are caring, compassionate people.  We use these sorts of generalised associations to make quick judgements on which to base decisions about how we should behave.

We now know, thanks to Meier and his colleagues, that we can have a certain degree of confidence in our swift judgments about the respective personalities of the person on the bus eating sweets and the person sitting next to them eating peanuts.  Since the sweet-munching passenger like sweets, or simply because they are eating them (regardless of whether they like them or not), the research indicates that they are the ones who are more likely to be helpful if you need a hand off the bus with your bags.  

However, we don’t have any research that backs up most of our everyday judgements about the unseen associates of observed behaviours – yet that doesn’t stop us making them.  No matter how open-minded we try to be, when we see someone behaving in a particular way, we often make judgments about what personality traits the person will have on the basis of this one thing. Of course to compound the issue they will be doing the same thing about us.  If we then interact and communicate with each other, the implicit assumptions we each make about the other person will guide the style, tone and content of our communication.  In this way the possible, and sometimes the unconscious, becomes reality. It takes a real effort of will to break out of this intuitive and functional way of interacting.

So perhaps this research should give us pause for thought about more than the specific research content. Of course it does suggest that if we spot one store assistant snacking on chocolate when we go in to make a complaint, then she is the one we should make a beeline for.  And we may be well advised to approach the refunds counter armed with a packet of jelly babies to offer to the harassed customer service advisor.   However, perhaps it should also remind us to consider if the assumptions we habitually make about other people are quite as sound as the sweet tooth, sweet nature connection.

 

References

Meier, Brian P.; Moeller, Sara K.; Riemer-Peltz, Miles; Robinson, Michael D. “Sweet taste preferences and experiences predict prosocial inferences, personalities, and behaviorsJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, Aug 29, 2011

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: