People-Pleasers More Likely To Overeat
February 2, 2012

People-Pleasers More Likely To Overeat

A recent U.S.-based study indicates that people who aim to please others are also more likely to overeat at parties or social gatherings.

On account of an acute sensitivity to the feelings of others, the report found that these people tend to eat, and eat not because they´re hungry but because they believe it will put others at ease.

As the study´s lead author Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, explained: “They don´t want to rock the boat or upset the sense of social harmony.”

The results of her research, published this week in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, point to a sense of social pressure–whether real or imagined–that drives people-pleasers to continue eating so as not to be outdone by those around them.

“If we look back later and feel like we´ve given into social pressure, we often regret those choices [“¦] Those who overeat in order to please others tend to regret their choices later. It doesn´t feel good to give in to social pressures,” wrote Exline.

The study suggests that people with this personality type are also more likely to be uncomfortable or experience feelings of guilt if they outperform their peers at tasks like work or sports.

For the study, Exline´s team had 101 college students fill out questionnaires designed to help the researchers single-out people-pleasing subjects.

After identifying students with a proclivity for people-pleasing, the entire group was then asked to wait and mingle while an actor hired for the experiment handed around a bowl full of M&Ms.

Exline´s team reported that people who they had identified as people-pleasers had a tendency to gobble up more of the sweets than others.

“People-pleasers feel more intense pressure to eat when they believe that their eating will help another person feel more comfortable,” explained Exline.

“Almost everyone has been in a situation in which they´ve felt this pressure, but people-pleasers seem especially sensitive to it.”

And with a number of previous studies indicating that people who don´t eat at social gatherings tend to be perceived as unsocial, it seems that the pressure to eat is not entirely imagined.

Exline suggests that people with a heightened social sensitivity need to learn to consciously strike a balance rather than just reacting automatically to that pressure.

“Sometimes it makes sense to go along with the groove–you don´t want to hurt grandma´s feelings [and] it´s not a big deal if grandma cooks you a big dinner once a year. But if you live with grandma, it could be a problem,” she said.

“The trick is to be thoughtful about choices rather than going on autopilot.”


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