We have all heard the phrase “you are what you eat!” To me it was nothing more than a saying to get kids to eat healthy. However, I began to wonder whether or not there is some truth behind this saying. Is it true that who you are can influence what foods you like to eat? Or is it possible that the foods that a person enjoys effects their personality? Eager to find the truth behind this cliche saying, I did some research.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Innssbruck, a persons appetite can directly correlate with their personality. In their experiment, 1000 people with an average age of 35 were studied to determine wether or not bitter taste preferences are associated with dark personality traits such as sadness and narcissism.
The first test took 500 participants and gave them a list of foods ranging in taste from bitter to sour to sweet. They then asked the subjects to rate the foods on a preference scale from “strongly like” to “strongly dislike”. After this the same participants took a personality test that asked them question relating to five different personality types. The second group of 500 participants took a similar test, however their food choices had only two tastes; bitter and sweet. After examining evidence from both of these experiments, the team concluded that there was a correlation between bitter taste preferences and negative personality traits.
Another study done in 2013 by Penn State professor Nadia Byrnes found that personality plays a role in a persons lust for spicy food. In this study, 184 participants ranging from 18-45 were asked questions to assess their tendency to engage in risky behavior. The participants were then separated into two groups, risk takers and non risk takers. After the test the subjects were given a spicy meal and told to rate how much they enjoyed the taste as time passed. The researchers discovered that the non risk takers tended to dislike the meal a vast majority of the time. In contrast, those who were more inclined to take risks enjoyed the spicy sensation. The team found that a persons personality can be a factor in their appetite. John E Hayes, a co author of the study, concluded that, “…It seems plausible that personality differences may be a major factor in this sort of (taste) exploration.”
Both of these studies examined if a persons personality has an effect on their eating preferences. They reached similar conclusions that were consistent with personality impacting appetite, however neither study provided a mechanism to explain their findings Both conclusions could be due to chance, but it is unlikely because the sample sizes are decently large. It is also entirely possible that what a person eats alters their personality. If this were the case it would be reverse causation. Another possibility is that a third variable plays a factor in shaping persons personality and taste buds. These traits could include a persons upbringing, age, background or race. Although there are some doubts surrounding these studies, I believe that it is entirely possible to say with confidence that personality correlates with a persons taste preferences. However, we learned that correlation does not always equal causation.
In summary, it is very possible that who you are can effect what you eat. Both of the studies were done well and there is a low chance that they are victim of the file drawer problem. While, “you are what you eat!” might be cliche parental advice, there could be some truth behind it.