PSYA3 - eating behaviour

Discuss attitudes to food and eating behaviour

Explanations include social learning theory and cultural influences.

Social learning theory emphasises the impact that observing other people has on our own attitudes and behaviour towards food. More often than not parents control the foods bought and served at home however, research suggests that there is an association between parents’ and children's attitudes to food in general. Brown and Ogden (2004) reported consistent correlations between parents and their children in terms of snack food intake, eating motivations and body dissatisfaction. This is an example of parental modelling showing that parents influence our eating habits.

Meyer and Gast (2008) demonstrated the importance of social learning theory in attitudes to food. They surveyed 10-12 year old boys and girls finding a significant positive correlation between peer influence and disordered eating, suggesting that the likeability of peers was considered the most important factor in this relationship which leads to the impression that it is not only parents that have influence on our attitudes to food.

Biren and Fischer provided further support as when studying mothers and daughters they found that the best predictors of the daughters behaviour came from the mothers dietary restraint and the perception of the risks of the daughter becoming overweight.

Another explanation considered in the social learning theory is the effects of the media, MacIntyre et al (1998) found that the media have a major impact on what people eat and their attitudes towards certain foods. However, researchers also state that many eating behaviours are limited by personal circumstances such as age and income suggesting that the media is not solely responsible for the populations food habits but that it is just one factor.

Social learning explanations of eating behaviour focus explicitly on the role of fashion models in influencing the food attitudes of young people. However, attitudes to food are also a product of evolution, they suggest that our preferences for fatty and sweet foods is a direct result of an evolved adaptation from our ancestors. This means that food preferences are much more than just learned behaviours.

Cultural influences such as ethnicity can also be applied to attitudes to food and eating behaviour. Ball and Kenardy (2002) studied over 14,000 women between the ages of 18-23 in Australia finding that for all ethnic groups the longer the time spent in Australia the more the women reported eating behaviour similar to women in Australia. This is known as the acculturation effect.

Powell and Khan (1995) also conducted a study into the effects of ethnicity in attitudes to food and eating behaviour finding that body dissatisfaction and related eating disorders are more characteristic of white women than black or Asian women.

Research has found a preoccupation with dieting and disordered eating amongst white females but other studies show the opposite. Mumford et al (1991) found that the incidence of bulimia was greater among Asian school girls while Striegel-Moore et al (1995) found more evidence for a drive for thinness among black


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