One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. — Virginia Wolf
Attending a conference hosted by Ohio State this week, an odd occurrence happened.
While sitting down for dinner with the other presenters, I noticed that I had ordered the exact same meal (a Caesar salad and lasagna) as my friend next to me. My friend then noted that he, too, had coincidentally ordered the same thing as the person next to him. And then this person, overhearing our conversation, pointed out that she had unintentionally ordered the same thing as the person next to her!
And this restaurant wasn’t even known for their lasagna!
Now, coincidence aside, the real question is this: Could ordering the same meal as someone else influence how you perceive that person?
SNACK TIME TRUST
Typically, when you go out to eat, it’s a social “no-no” to order the same thing as someone else. Although I have no idea why this was ever a thing, research suggests it should definitely not continue to be a thing. For as studies show, eating the same food as someone else can actually increase your trust in the other person.
Researchers had two participants (both strangers) come into the lab and had them eat the same foods (e.g., both participants “taste tested” three salty foods) or had them eat different foods (e.g., one participant “taste tested” salty foods while the other tried sweet foods). Afterward, the participants had to engage in a negotiation task.
Impressively, the pairs that ate the same snacks (e.g., both ate sweet foods or both ate salty foods) reached a resolution about two times faster than those who ate different foods! Further analyses showed that the partners who at the same food felt socially “closer” to their partner than those who ate different foods. And it was this perceived social closeness that explained how quickly they resolved the negotiation.
In another study, participants watched a video of a consumer talking about how much he liked this new “HP software.” Coincidentally, the consumer in the video was snacking on the same food the participant was given to snack on (e.g., grapes). When their snacks matched like this (compared to when they didn’t), participants liked the consumer and trusted their product review more!
As you know, food plays a very important role in our daily lives, so when we see other people have similar food preferences to ourselves, we are more likely to trust them–and apparently, buy their products, too.
TWO > ONE
As interesting as it is to see how sharing the same food type with someone else can influence our perceptions of that other person, there is also some interesting research on how eating the same food as someone else can influence our perception of the food itself.
In this set of studies, researchers had participants come into the lab to eat two pieces of chocolate. Importantly, the participant ate one piece of chocolate alone, while they at the other piece of chocolate in the same room and at the same time as someone else. Even more importantly, though, unbeknownst to the participant, it was the exact same chocolate in both taste tests.
Even still, the participants rated the chocolate tastier when they ate it in the presence of someone else.
The researchers suggest that eating the chocolate with others “amplified” the experience of the chocolate. That is, even though the two people didn’t communicate while eating, having another person around could lead one to consider the other person’s thoughts on the experience. In turn, this can you make you feel more absorbed in the experience, increasing the tastiness of the chocolate itself!
SHOULD WE ALL EAT THE SAME FOODS?
For example, if the person you’re eating with knows you intentionally copied their meal choice, they may not trust you because they believe you have ulterior motives. Or, if the person you’re eating with turns out to dislike the food you’re both consuming, you may not receive this “amplification” effect on its tastiness.
Nonetheless, at dinner on Tuesday night, I feel pretty confident that all four of us really enjoyed our Caesar salads and lasagna. Largely, because we didn’t have to pay for them 😉
Psch•o•philosophy to Ponder: At the end of this post, I cautioned that there will be conditions under which these effects won’t come about. Can you think of any other times or contexts when they may not work? For example, in both studies, the participants were always paired up with strangers for the taste testing studies. Can you think how things might have differed if they had eaten these foods with friends? Would you really trust your friend more if they ate the same thing as you? Or would you already expect them to have a similar taste profile because they’re you’re friend? What about trying the same food as someone else? Would we expect the effect to hold as well with close others as they showed it with distant ones? Or may it be even stronger?
Boothby, E. J., Clark, M. S., & Bargh, J. A. (2014). Shared experiences are amplified. Psychological science, 25(12), 2209-2216.
Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2017). A recipe for friendship: similar food consumption promotes trust and cooperation. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27(1), 1-10.