September 22, 2009

‘Comfort food’ not a comfort when stressed

Challenging conventional wisdom, U.S. researchers say stress and upheaval actually lead people to choose less-familiar foods over comfort foods.

Most of us can name our favorite 'comfort foods' and believe that we are most prone to seek them out during times of stress and upheaval, study author Stacy Wood of the University of South Carolina said in a statement.

Study participants were told about a person described as either being in an extremely stable life situation or in the midst of many changes, Wood says. The study subjects were asked to predict whether these people would choose a popular American potato chip or an unknown British potato crisp in exotic flavors like Camembert and Plum.

The participants said they thought the stable person would have more time and energy to try new things and would choose the new item.

Researchers than asked participants to rate the level of change in their own lives and then to choose snacks. Those experiencing more change chose the newer snacks.

This result is called the 'comfort food fallacy' effect, Wood said in a statement.

Contrary to our expectations, comfort foods appear to be chosen more often in comfortable times.

The study appears in the Journal of Consumer Research.