Evolutionary explanations of eating behaviour

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Outline and Evaluate Evolutionary Explanations of Eating
Behaviour (24 marks)
The evolutionary explanation uses the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA)
as a model to explain eating behaviours and food preferences today. In this
environment, psychologists believe humans have a preference for fatty organs such
as brains or the liver. Milton claims that this was adaptive because the fatty food
contained lots of nutrients and protein for growth which allowed our brains to grow
and develop sophisticated cognitive functions and this cannot be done on a diet of
only fruit and vegetables.
There is research support for the theory of why we have a preference for fatty food.
Gibson and Wardle presented children with a variety of fruits and found that the vast
majority chose bananas and potatoes which are dense in calories. This therefore
demonstrates that we are hard-wired to pick out the foods with the most calories in
order to enhance survival. This theory has real world applicability as it explains why
we prefer to eat food such as pizza and burgers instead of vegetables and fruit. This
theory is also supported by Stanford who found chimpanzees who had been near
starvation chose the fattiest parts on the kill such as the brain in order to regain the
calories they had lost. Therefore, this provides valid evidence to support the theory
that humans have a preference for fatty food as it aids survival.
However, there are cultural differences that affect our preferences for certain food.
For instance, in China they eat a lot of rice and noodles, but this could be down to
the availability of the food. Therefore, we can say that evolved factors are still
important today, but these are modified by our experiences with different foods;
with culture partially determining the degree of such experiences. As a result of this,
nowadays evolutionary preference is not universal.
The evolutionary approach also uses the EEA to explain taste aversion in humans.
Rats are difficult to poison because they have evolved to be `Bait Shy' which means
they only taste a small bit of food and if it makes them ill they avoid it. The same is
seen in humans who naturally avoid smelly or sour food which is beneficial because
it means the body is protected from unhealthy or poisonous food. This is supported
by Garcia et al. They found that rats who were given a distinct flavour before
suffering radiation poisoning avoided the food after becoming ill. This is adaptive
because it means the rats that eat a small amount of poison don't get ill, therefore
survive. This is an evolutionary advantage because those who don't have `Bait
Shyness' are most likely to die from eating bad foods. This supports the evolutionary
explanation and explains why humans have evolved not to like certain foods that are
sour. However, the results from this study may not be able to be generalised due to
the type of sample used. Humans and rats are two different types of species
therefore can we really apply the results of this study to the complex behaviour of
humans? Therefore, the validity of this study can be questioned making it not a
suitable explanation for the reason why humans decide to avoid certain food.

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Despite this, Sandell and Breslin's study supports the evolutionary theory of taste
aversion in humans. They asked 33 participants (pps.) to rate foods in order of
bitterness. Some vegetables contained Glucosinolates which in high doses can be
poisonous and taste 60% more bitter than other flavours. The participants stated the
food containing Glucosinolates tasted the most bitter. This shows humans have
naturally evolved to pick out bitter tastes and then avoid the food to aid survival.…read more

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