Morning Brew: Monkey see, monkey do killing your diet?

By Guy Gordon

Published On: Feb 02 2012 09:28:32 AM EST   Updated On: Feb 02 2012 12:39:47 PM EST
DETROIT -

Most of us hate eating alone, but if you're trying to lose weight, it may be a good idea--especially if your companion has a hearty appetite.

New research published today in the journal PLoS ONE finds women mimic each other in social eating situations, leading in many cases to over-eating.

Psychopathologists set up a "lab restaurant" where a group of female subjects dined with a "co-eater" seated across from them. 

The primary subjects were told they could eat as much or as little as they liked.  The co-eaters were instructed to eat small, medium or large portions of food.

Researchers observed 20-minute meals and found when a co-eater ate like a horse, so did her companion.  If another was instructed to eat lite, so did the other diner.

In fact, this monkey see, monkey do phenomenon extended to the pace of eating.  When one took a bite, the other immediately reached for her fork.  And this mimicry was three times stronger in the first 10 minutes of the meal.

Researchers aren't sure if it's because the women were subconsciously triggered to take a bite by their friend, or whether they were consciously trying to gauge what constituted "appropriate eating."

It begs the question, do you regulate your intake by watching others around you?  Or do you pig-out regardless?

And what would happen if they did this study with men?  Speaking from experience,  I'm certain it would become a consumption competition with massive quantities consumed on both sides of the table.  Stuffed research subjects would be observed moaning miserably while rubbing bloated bellies.   Where do I sign up?