Autopilot eating turns movie viewing into monster jamboree

the popcorn experimentWould you eat something that tasted awful ? I’m not talking dreadful, just unpleasant.

Of course not……….

Well, research from the University of Southern California suggests you probably would, because eating is more than just keeping the taste buds satisfied.

Popcorn buckets at the movies

Researchers held a free movie screening, those who signed up were issued with a box of popcorn as they entered, but not everyone got the good stuff.

Some movie goers got freshly popped popcorn, but many got popcorn that was over a week old.

NOTE : For anyone who has not tried stale popcorn – it is a bit like eating straw. It is ice cold, hard and chewy, all at the same time.

The popcorn was popped in

Logic would propose that the moviegoers, who were unlucky enough to be handed the stale popcorn, would have given it a miss.

But the human brain is not always rational.

Moviegoers who were not big popcorn fans, did indeed take a few bites of the stale popcorn, but finding that it was really not too pleasant, left most of it behind.

But moviegoers who always purchased a box of popcorn, as part of their movie ritual, just shovelled it in. There was no difference between the amount of popcorn consumed – good or bad in the popcorn devotees.

 The brain goes to the movies

 For many people, when they go to see a movie, they play their cinema pattern….

  •  buy the movie ticket
  • line up for a popcorn & cold drink
  • find the seat and
  • munch munch munch, while watching the film

The clue to eat popcorn is sitting in the cinema seat. The popcorn purchase is not filtered based on “Am I hungry ?”, “Wouldn’t a box of popcorn taste great ?” but “Whoo, I am at the movies, so I need a box of popcorn”.

The brain expects popcorn at the movies.

The brain eats popcorn in the boardroom

The research team did a re-run of the popcorn experiment. But instead of serving popcorn in a movie theatre, they popped a bowl in a board room, where movie clips were being viewed.

Now unless you have a particularly eccentric boss – popcorn in the boardroom is WEIRD. The response to the unusual phenomenon was as expected. Everyone enjoyed the fresh popcorn but the stale popcorn was given a miss, BY ALL.

The environment puts the brain on autopilot

We all have habits, patterns of behaviour that play out with very little thought, as we run on automatic pilot.

Some of our habits are beneficial, like brushing your teeth, others are neutral, but many of them can be detrimental to our health in the long-run.

It might be time to do an analysis of some of your eating patterns i.e. the what and where, especially if you’re struggling with your weight.

  • Are you just eating because well, it is what you always do ?
  • Do you really feel hungry ?
  • Does what you’re eating actually taste good ?

The environment can kill willpower and good intentions

Willpower and good intentions may not be enough, when you’re dealing with hardwired patterns of behaviour.

The secret to overcoming the habit is to

  • Identify the pattern, it could be the movies, facebook or your church or a social club
  • Find a way to interrupt the pattern, either avoid the environment or do something different

eg. if you ALWAYS end a meal with something sweet, go walkies or fight aliens in the living room instead of attacking the hidden stash of chocolates

Make every calorie count

Mindless eating is a waste of calories. Make every calorie count – stop counting steps and start counting bites

The Pull of the Past: When Do Habits Persist Despite Conflict With Motives? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2011) 37(11):   1428-1437.   David T. Neal, Wendy Wood, Mengju Wu, and David Kurlander.


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Further reading

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Why stress makes you feel hungry for nice things   The scary movie effect for “successful” dating Why rats commit suicide by jumping in front of hungry cats

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

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Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

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