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Mimicry of Food Intake: The Dynamic Interplay between Eating Companions
Published: Wednesday, February 01, 2012
Author: Roel C. J. Hermans et al.

by Roel C. J. Hermans, Anna Lichtwarck-Aschoff, Kirsten E. Bevelander, C. Peter Herman, Junilla K. Larsen, Rutger C. M. E. Engels

Numerous studies have shown that people adjust their intake directly to that of their eating companions; they eat more when others eat more, and less when others inhibit intake. A potential explanation for this modeling effect is that both eating companions' food intake becomes synchronized through processes of behavioral mimicry. No study, however, has tested whether behavioral mimicry can partially account for this modeling effect. To capture behavioral mimicry, real-time observations of dyads of young females having an evening meal were conducted. It was assessed whether mimicry depended on the time of the interaction and on the person who took the bite. A total of 70 young female dyads took part in the study, from which the total number of bites (N?=?3,888) was used as unit of analyses. For each dyad, the total number of bites and the exact time at which each person took a bite were coded. Behavioral mimicry was operationalized as a bite taken within a fixed 5-second interval after the other person had taken a bite, whereas non-mimicked bites were defined as bites taken outside the 5-second interval. It was found that both women mimicked each other's eating behavior. They were more likely to take a bite of their meal in congruence with their eating companion rather than eating at their own pace. This behavioral mimicry was found to be more prominent at the beginning than at the end of the interaction. This study suggests that behavioral mimicry may partially account for social modeling of food intake.