Healthy or wealthy? Attractive individuals induce sex-specific food preferences

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Food Quality and Preference, ISSN: 0950-3293, Vol: 70, Page: 11-20

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Tobias Otterbring
Elsevier BV
Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Nursing
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article description
Research shows that the mere presence of others and their physical appearance can influence people’s meal choices and food intake. Studies also suggest that such effects are sex-specific and depend on whether the eating occasion includes same-sex or opposite-sex individuals. In five experiments ( N = 530; 49% female), the author investigates whether mate attraction, induced by exposure to attractive opposite-sex individuals, has a differential effect on the foods and beverages that men and women prefer to consume. The results revealed that prior exposure to attractive (versus less attractive) men decreased women’s willingness to spend money on unhealthy foods, and increased their inclination to spend money on healthy foods. Restrained eating moderated this effect, which means that women who scored high (versus low) on restrained eating were particularly motivated to spend money on healthy foods after exposure to an attractive male individual. On the contrary, exposure to attractive (versus less attractive) women did not influence men’s consumption preferences for healthy or unhealthy foods. However, men were more motivated to spend money on expensive drinking and dining options after exposure to an attractive female individual, and their desire to display status mediated this effect. Importantly, none of these effects occurred after exposure to attractive same-sex individuals, which provides converging evidence that mate attraction is the fundamental motive underlying these findings. Taken together, this research reveals how, why, and when appearance-induced mate attraction leads to sex-specific consumption preferences for various foods and beverages.