Evolutionary explanations of food preference

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  • Created by: KCharlish
  • Created on: 03-01-16 20:07

The environment of evolutionary adaption

EEA = the environment in which a species first evolved.

The adaptive problems faced by our ancestors in the EEA would have shaped early food preferences. 

Human beings would have lived in a hunter - gatherer societies which would have led to a preference for high calorie and easily available foods. (fatty foods for energy to stay alive)


Evolutionary explanations can be tested..

After starving for much of the year chimpanzees go straight for the fattiest part of their kill (Stanford)


Evolutionary explanations of human behaviour may mask more proximate causes e.g. price

Not all food preferences can be traced back to the EEA

Some modern preferences e.g. low cholerstral food, could not have evolved during the EEA because they had no beneficial effecrs for ancestors. Also many things important to our ancestors e.g. high fat foods, are likely to be avoided by modern humans due to health risks.

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Early diets

Preference for fatty foods - harsh conditions in the EEA meant that for early humans energy resources were vital to stay alive. 

Early humans evolved a preference for fatty foods that were rich in calories because these promoted survival. 

These preferences for rich calorie foods exist now even though they are not particularly nutritious.


There is research that supports this...

Gibson and Wardle - the best way to predict which fruit and veg would be preferred by children was to measure how calorie rich they were. Bananas and potatoes are most calorie rich and also most preferred by 4 - 5 year olds.

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Preference for meat

Good for brain growth

A meat diet was full of densely packed nutrients and therefore provided a catalyst for the growth of the brain.

As a result humans were able to evolve into active and intelligent species.

Meat supplied early humans with all the essential amino acids, minerals and nutrients they required, allowing them to supplement their dier with widely available, but less nutritious, plant based foods e.g. rich and wheat. 


Early humans may have been vegetarians...

Cordain et al. claimed that early humans are more likely to have found most of their calories in sources other than saturated animal fats.


Abrams has shown that all societies show a preference for animal fats - suggesting it is a universal evolved preference. It is also unlikely that early humans would have found sufficient calories for an active lifestule from a vegetarian diet.

Cultural factors are also important...e.g spicy food

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Taste aversion

Taste aversion - Garcia et al. rats made ill through radiation after eating poisoned food developed an aversion to it because they formed an association between the taste of the poisoned food and the illness.

Adaptive advantages - taste aversion would have helped our ancestors survive - after ingesting posion they learn to avoid that food in the future. Taste aversions are difficult to shift therefore aiding survival.

The medicine effecr - describes a tendency for individuals to develop a preference for any food eaten just before recovery from an illness - associated with feeling better.

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Taste aversion AO2

Taste aversion can be explained by...

Biological preparedness - differential learning abilities in different species means that each species has the ability to learn certain associations more easily than others- particularly those that help them to survive.

Real world application...

Research has been used to help understand the food avoidence that often occurs during chemotherapy.

Bernstein and Webster - gave patients a novel tasting ice cream prior to chemo and the patients developed an aversion to that ice cream. This has led to hospitals giving patients novel and familiar foods prior to chemotherapy. Aversion then forms to the novel food and not familiar food.

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