While the stereotype that women eat less when men are watching is still common, a new study conducted by Cornell University found that the opposite may be true for men. Researchers found that men tend to eat more when women are around.
The study used observations of diners at an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet and found that men who were dining with at least one woman at their table ate 93 percent more pizza than men who were eating with only men. Furthermore, this tendency extended to healthy food - men also ate 86 percent more salad when dining with women.
"We find that while men disproportionately overeat in the company of women, women felt like they overate and felt rushed when eating with men even though there was no evidence that they actually ate more," Kevin Kniffin, lead author of the study, said in a press release.
Kniffin and his team conducted an additional experiment using 74 men and 59 women at an Italian restaurant with unlimited pizza and salad. As expected, they found that men dining with women ate approximately three slices of pizza and five bowls of salad, compared to just 1.5 slices of pizza and less than three bowls of salad when dining with men.
In the same experiment, women ate more salad and less pizza when dining with other females compared to when they dined with men.
The researchers believe that these findings could signify an unconscious psychological process - men may be signaling their biological fitness by eating more. Unhealthy eating habits could be a means of showing partners that they can endure self-inflicted pain for a short period of time.
"In other words, 'self-handicap behavior' is basically a kind of showing off," said Kniffin.
Further research will need to utilize a larger study size and also account for social context in order to fully understand how men and women differ in their eating habits and the psychological and biological explanations for these differences.