Feb. 3, 2012 -- People pleasers may want to steer clear of this weekend’s Super Bowl parties in order to avoid a dietary fumble.
A new study shows people who have a strong desire to please others tend to overeat in social situations, even if they’re not hungry.
They’re also more likely to indulge in foods they’d normally avoid, like fatty snacks and sweet desserts.
"People pleasers feel more intense pressure to eat when they believe that their eating will help another person feel more comfortable," says researcher Julie Exline, PhD, a Case Western Reserve psychologist, in a news release.
According to the researchers, saying no to Buffalo wings or pizza at a party is hard for everyone when others are eating them. But people pleasers are especially sensitive to peer pressure and want to match what others are eating.
In addition to spoiling their diet, researchers say peer pressure-induced eating comes at an emotional cost for people pleasers.
"Those who overeat in order to please others tend to regret their choices later,” says Exline. “It doesn't feel good to give in to social pressures."
Eating to Please
In the study, researchers looked at the effect of social pressures on eating in two different situations involving about 100 undergraduate students. All of the participants completed a survey beforehand that indicated how strong their desire was to please others.
In the first situation, the students were offered a bowl of M&M candies from a stranger, who they thought was another participant in the study. Researchers measured how much candy they took and then questioned the students about how much they ate and why.
The results showed people pleasers tended to eat more if they thought their peer wanted them to eat.
In addition, people pleasers had a greater desire to match the quantity their peer ate. They were also more likely to say they wanted to make the other person feel comfortable.
"They don't want to rock the boat or upset the sense of social harmony," says Exline.
Researchers say these effects were especially significant because the situation -- a brief exchange with a stranger -- was one in which social pressure should have been minimal.
Peer Pressure Prompts Overeating
In the second experiment, researchers asked the participants to recall a situation in which they were trying to avoid overeating or eating a certain food (like junk food or dessert), and they were with another person who wanted to eat or overeat the food they were trying to avoid.
Most of the study participants’ situations involved a close relationship. The results showed that people who were people pleasers were more likely perceive that the other person would feel threatened if they didn’t eat.
People pleasers were also more likely to report:
- Feeling concerned about their relationship with the other person
- More emotional distress about the situation
- A greater desire to satisfy others
- Giving in to social peer pressure by eating more
- Feeling less satisfaction with the outcome
Researchers say people pleasers have a strong desire to avoid posing a threat to others and put a lot of effort into making others feel comfortable. In situations where food is the focus, this desire to please could be dangerous to their diets.
"Almost everyone has been in a situation in which they've felt this pressure, but people pleasers seem especially sensitive to it," says Exline.