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Effects of Faces on Faces of Eaters and Non-Eaters

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

(Image credit: Bertrand Devouard and Florence Devouard)

compiled by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, Improbable Research staff

People who watch the faces of other people eating, or who watch those other people while those other people are not putting food in their faces, may sometimes react to what they see. Here are some attempts to probe some questions that some people wondered about, about that.

Conscious Effect of Faces on Other Faces (1995)
“Facial Expressions Are Contagious,” Lars-Olov Lundqvist and Ulf Dimberg, Journal of Psychophysiology, vol 9, no. 3, 1995, pp. 203-211. The authors, at Örebro University and Uppsala University, Sweden, explain:

[We] explored the facial muscle responses to exposure to stimuli of facial expressions (FEs) that correspond to specific emotional experiences; and whether FEs are contagious. 56 subjects were exposed individually to slides of males and females...

Sad faces evoked significantly larger reactions from the M. corrugator supercili muscle region. Faces expressing surprise evoked significantly larger reactions from frontal M. lateralis region. Angry faces evoked an increased experience of fear and disgust.

Unconscious Effect of Faces on Other Faces (2000)
“Unconscious Facial Reactions to Emotional Facial Expressions,” Ulf Dimberg, Monika Thunberg, and Kurt Elmehed, Psychological Science, vol. 11 no. 1, January 2000, pp. 86-89. The authors, at Uppsala University, Sweden, explain:

We investigated whether corresponding facial reactions can be elicited when people are unconsciously exposed to happy and angry facial expressions.... Despite the fact that exposure to happy and angry faces was unconscious, the subjects reacted with distinct facial muscle reactions that corresponded to the happy and angry stimulus faces....

Nine angry, 9 happy, and 10 neutral facial stimuli were used.... To ensure that the subjects looked at the pictures, we preceded each trial with a low-intensity (<42 dBA) warning noise.

The Effect of Eaters’ Faces on Other Eaters (2007)
“Emotion and Food. Do the Emotions Expressed on Other People’s Faces Affect the Desire to Eat Liked and Disliked Food Products?” Laétitia Barthomeuf, Sylvie Rousset, and Sylvie Droit-Volet, Appetite, vol. 52, 2009, pp. 27–33. The authors, at CNRS, Clermont-Ferrand, France, explain:

Forty-four men and women were presented with two series of photographs.... When the eater expressed pleasure, the desire to eat these liked foods did not significantly increase. In contrast, when the eater expressed disgust, the desire to eat them significantly decreased.... for the disliked foods, the desire to eat was stronger in men than in women.

Detail from the study “Emotion and Food. Do the Emotions Expressed on Other People’s Faces Affect the Desire to Eat Liked and Disliked Food Products?”

The Effects of Obese Eaters’ Faces on Other Eaters (2009)
“The Desire to Eat in the Presence of Obese or Normal-weight Eaters as a Function of Their Emotional Facial Expression,” Laétitia Barthomeuf, Sylvie Rousset, and Sylvie Droit-Volet, Obesity, vol. 18, 2009, pp. 719-724. The authors explain:

Results showed that... perceiving an obese eater decreased the viewer’s desire to eat, whatever his/her facial expression.

The Effects of Obese Eaters on Other Eaters (2011)
“Differences in the Desire to Eat in Children and Adults in the Presence of an Obese Eater,” Laetitia Barthomeuf, Sylvie Droit-Volet, and Sylvie Rousset, Obesity, vol. 19, no. 3, 2011, pp. 939-945.

[Our] previous research has shown that the desire to eat foods decreases in adults in the presence of an obese eater compared to a normal-weight eater. This study investigated whether or not this decrease in eating desire was observed in younger children in the same way as in adults. Children aged 5 and 8 years old, as well as adults, were presented with photographs of liked and disliked foods presented either alone or with normal-weight and obese eaters expressing three different emotions—pleasure, disgust, and neutrality—toward these food products. The results showed that the eater’s weight status had a greater effect on the adults’ desire to eat than on that of the children.

Detail from the study “Differences in the Desire to Eat in Children and Adults in the Presence of an Obese Eater.”


This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2017 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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