NAGOYA, Japan — It’s long been proven that eating around others leads one to both consume and enjoy food to a higher extent. But if no one is around to share a meal with, “invite yourself” to dinner — by eating in front of a mirror.
It may sound vain, but it turns out watching oneself eat can produce a rather similar effect, a new study finds.
Researchers at Nagoya University in Japan examined the phenomenon of greater satisfaction and advantages from eating with others, termed “social facilitation of eating,” hoping to find “the minimum requirement” for its benefits to take hold in an individual’s life.
To conduct their experiment, in which participants ate in front of a mirror, researchers first recruited 28 older adult volunteers, as this demographic often finds itself eating alone. The participants consisted of men and women between the ages of 65 and 74 who were found to be in good health and exhibiting no prior eating disorders or allergies that could conflict with the nature of the study.
This group showed clear benefits from watching their reflection while chowing down on bowls of popcorn, finding it tasted better and eating more of it when in front of a mirror instead of simply eating in front of a wall. Mirrors, it turns out, weren’t the only item that helped facilitate improvements in the outcomes of eating: simply looking at a photograph of oneself eating was linked to an increase in the amount and enjoyment of food consumed.
“Studies have shown that for older adults, enjoying food is associated with quality of life, and frequently eating alone is associated with depression and loss of appetite,” says co-author Nobuyuki Kawai in a university press release.
Eating in front of a mirror is “a possible approach to improving the appeal of food, and quality of life, for older people who do not have company when they eat— for example, those who have suffered loss or are far away from their loved ones,” Kawai adds.
The researchers were surprised to find that the same finding also held true when they conducted the experiment on a group of younger participants between the ages of 20 and 23.
“The fact that this facilitating effect of self-reflection was observed in a broader age range means that the method may be beneficial to many more people, given that eating food is a major source of pleasure in human life,” the authors write.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.