French Fries for the Soul

Article excerpt

Byline: Trevor Butterworth

Why economic recessions make us fat.

It Has long been known that high-calorie food can act as a balm for anxiety and bad moods, but now a series of new studies published in Psychological Science suggests that high-calorie food may be a balm for economic anxiety, too, and one that we are primed to apply whenever we perceive trouble in the world.

In one of the experiments, people who were exposed to words suggesting tough times, like "adversity," "withstand," and "struggle," were prompted to eat more high-calorie food and less low-calorie food than a control group did--even though these words were in the background, on a poster, and not directly apprehended. Taste didn't come into it; neither did pleasure. "The cues I used did not change people's mood," says lead author Juliano Laran, a University of Miami marketing professor who specializes in consumer psychology and self-control, "and I specifically found that people were not looking for pleasure, but rather for food items that can keep them fed for longer periods of time."

The inspiration for the studies came from New York City's policy of posting calorie counts in restaurants, which Laran noticed did nothing to decrease the consumption of high-calorie food. "This signaled," he says, "that misinformation was not the main issue, that there was something else going on."

On this account, one might say that Oliver Twist didn't ask for more gruel just because he was hungry; he wanted all the gruel he could get because his inner economist had heard that hard times lay ahead. …