ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (7): 1318-1330.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.01318

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The “double-edged sword” effect of eating together on food consumption and its mechanisms

WANG Chujun, WAN Xiaoang()   

  1. Department of Psychology, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
  • Received:2022-08-25 Online:2023-07-15 Published:2023-04-23
  • Contact: WAN Xiaoang


From a psychological perspective, eating together refers to the social eating that individuals consume the same or different foods with others at the same time, in the same physical space or the same virtual space. There are overlaps but also differences between the concepts of eating together and joint consumption as well as co-experiencing, with eating together falling into the scope of joint consumption and including co-experiencing. Considering that eating together is a complex eating behavior, an elaborate classification of eating together helps us understand this concept in a more structured way. Depending on the eating purpose, eating together can be classified as eating-together for social and eating-together for leisure. According to the different eating types and eating space, eating together can be categorized into shared eating-together or separate eating-together, and physical eating-together and digital eating-together, respectively. Moreover, eating together can influence individuals’ food consumption, such as resulting in people’s more choices of healthy foods or less consumption of food compared with solitary eating, which is beneficial to their health (positive effect). Conversely, eating together also leads to people’s choices of unhealthy foods or excessive consumption of foods (negative effect). Therefore, the impact of eating together on food consumption can be integrated into a theoretical model of the “double-edged sword” effect. In terms of food choices, from the perspective of social modeling, eating together promotes individuals to make choices that are favorable or unfavorable to their health, depending on the healthiness of others’ choices; whereas individuals may choose palatable but unhealthy food because eating together depletes their own cognitive resources based on the intertemporal choice theory; according to risk shift theory, people tend to choose unhealthy foods as other diners can diversify the risk of unhealthy eating. In terms of food intake, the presence of others during eating together induces a social facilitation effect that may lead individuals to consume excessive foods; by contrast, eating together driven by impression management motivates people to create a positive impression by controlling their food intake. As for food perception and evaluation, eating together can amplify individuals’ perception of foods based on the cognitive or emotional pathway. It should be noted that since eating together can be divided into different types along different dimensions, these various types of eating together exert different impacts on people’s food consumption. For example, digital eating-together may result in less food intake than physical eating-together as individuals who are eating in different contexts and space are not likely to be influenced by social norms. Although behaviors similar to eating together (e.g., co-experiencing) can also be driven by these theoretical mechanisms, the behavioral outcomes induced by these theories may differ from the influence of eating together, which further highlights the uniqueness and complexity of eating together. Given that eating together not only promotes individuals’ healthy eating but also results in the negative effect on their food consumption, future research can explore the interventions for healthy eating to alleviate the negative effect of eating together. The Nudge Theory is likely to provide a systematic theoretical framework to help individuals gain a positive and healthy experience of eating together. Researchers should also conduct cross-level studies to investigate multiple interactions of eating together by utilizing cutting-edge technologies, rather than merely focusing on individual-level behaviors. In addition to the influence on food consumption, the “double-edged sword” effect of eating together on emotions can be further explored by future research, and researchers should integrate the advantages of eating together and other eating behaviors to thoroughly investigate the influence of eating together on people’s eating experience. In conclusion, reviewing the mechanisms and outcomes of the influence of eating together on food consumption can provide some insights into how social context exerts an impact on eating behaviors in order to facilitate people’s healthy eating.

Key words: eating together, food choice, food intake, food evaluation, “double-edged sword” effect

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