Social eating, or eating in the presence of others, leads to a different pattern of intake than does solitary eating. According to a recent normative model put forth by Herman and colleagues, people use the eating behavior of others in order to determine how much they should eat – generally, individuals are motivated to eat as much palatable food as possible without being seen to eat excessively, and they often rely on social cues to help them define “excessive” (Herman, Roth, & Polivy, 2003
Social factors are among the most potent influences on individuals’ food intake, but it is important to note that the direction of these influences can vary depending on the context, leading to either increased intake or decreased intake. Social facilitation research shows that, in adults, the presence of others is associated with increased eating (e.g., de Castro, 1990
). Other research shows that people tend to model the intake of their eating companions, eating less when their companions eat less and eating more when their companions eat more (e.g., Goldman, Herman, & Polivy, 1991
). Finally, the desire to convey a favorable impression can also influence individuals’ food intake (Vartanian, Herman, & Polivy, 2007
). Although much of this research shows that impression-management inhibits eating (e.g., Mori, Chaiken, & Pliner, 1987
; Pliner & Chaiken, 1990
), this is not always necessarily the case. For instance, Vartanian et al. (2007)
argued that impression-management efforts are based on common consumption stereotypes. To the extent that eating a large amount of food is related to the impression that one is motivated to convey (e.g., appearing masculine), impression-management concerns could lead to increased intake. Thus, although there are clear social factors that determine intake, the direction of those influences can vary depending on the context.
One particular contextual factor that is related to social influences on food intake is the relationship between the co-eaters, more specifically, the familiarity between co-eaters For instance, de Castro (1994)
reported that there was social facilitation of intake to a greater extent between friends and family compared to with co-workers and other unfamiliar individuals (see also Clendenen, Herman, & Polivy, 1994
). Only one study to date has examined the impact of familiarity on modeling of food intake: Salvy and colleagues (Salvy, Jarrin, Paluch, Irfan, & Pliner, 2007
) found similar levels of matching of food intake among familiar others compared to unfamiliar others.
Although several studies have looked at the influence of parents on children’s food consumption (e.g., Faith, Scanlon, Birch, Francis, & Sherry, 2004
; Klesges, Coates, Brown, Sturgeon-Tillisch, Moldenhauer-Klesges, Holzer, Woolfrey, & Vollmer, 1983
; Koivisto, Fellenius, & Sjoden, 1994
; Laessle, Uhl, & Lindel, 2001
), few experimental studies have tested the influence of peers on children’s food intake. In fact most of the research in children has focused on the effects of others on children’s acceptance of unfamiliar foods (Addessi, Galloway, Visalberghi, & Birch, 2005
; Birch, 1980
; Duncker, 1938
; Harper & Sanders, 1975
; Hendy, 2002
; Hendy & Raudenbush, 2000
). However, questions remain about the extent to which social influences also impact children’s food consumption (i.e., how much
they eat). Some recent findings indicate that the presence of others do impact children’s eating (Salvy, Coelho, Kieffer, & Epstein, 2007
; Salvy, Kieffer, & Epstein, In Press
; Salvy, Romero, Paluch, & Epstein, 2007
). However, it is unknown whether the relationship between co-eaters impacts children’s food intake and/or their matching of food consumption.
With respect to the relationship with co-eaters, a type of familiar other that might be uniquely relevant to a child is his or her sibling. McHale, Kim, and Whiteman (2006)
describe two primary forms of sibling influence: modeling, in which one sibling serves as a socializing agent to another sibling, and “de-identification”, in which one sibling actively tries to differentiate him or herself from the other sibling. These authors recently identified a third form of sibling influence in which a child does not use his or her sibling as a referent (Whiteman, McHale, & Crouter, In Press
). Whiteman et al. (in press)
found, for example, that the correlation between siblings’ risky behaviors was observed for modeling siblings, but not for de-identifcation or non-referent siblings. Given the variability in sibling influence, it is unclear whether or not one would expect modeling of food intake between siblings.
The current study was designed to examine the effects of social influence on children’s food intake, and to determine whether familiarity (siblings versus strangers) impacts the amount of food consumed as well as the relationship between co-eaters’ intake (modeling of eating).