Psychology - Eating Behaviour

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Factors influencing attitudes to food and eating behaviour.

Why do we eat?

  • Pleasure.
  • Necessity.

Cultural, social and religiouns influences.

Ogden (2003): food choice "takes place within a network of social meanings".

  • Eating is more than just a biological need.
  • The food we choose and our eating behaviour is a social communication.
  • Gives information about a person's identity - particularly their cultural identity.
  • Tell us about their religion - certain foods cannot be eaten, cannot drink, food has to be prepared in a certain way, fasting.

Ogden (2003): eating is a social interaction, so important in social identity.

Socially we used food for...

  • Demonstrate personal wealth.
  • Develop relationships.
  • For kids - social learning theory - children learn what to eat and appropriate eating behaviour.
  • Children's food acceptance patterns are influenced by parental eating/attitudes and child-rearing practice.
  • Birch (1999): modelling = adults and peers can influence what a child eats, and induce them to eat previously disliked foods.
  • Birch and Marlin (1982): relationship between exposure and food preference. 8-10 exposures needed for shift to occur.

Examples of influence of religion on eating behaviour.


  • Food preparation must be Kosher.
  • Fasting days and ritual feasting days.


  • Bread and wine is symbolic during certain rituals.
  • Mormons = no caffeine or alcohol.
  • Easter and Christmas = feasting days.
  • Seventh Day Adventists do not eat meat or dairy.
  • Roman Catholics are taught to fast for one hour before taking communion.


  • Halal food.
  • Haram foods (forbidden foods), e.g. pork, breads with dried yeast, sweets made with gelatine/alcohol, caffeine (may be considered a haram.
  • Religious days for feasting, e.g. Eid al-Fatir (3 days).
  • Ramadan (fasting during daylight hours for 1 month).

Eating or not eating can be used to change body shape and/or size in line with cultural ideals.

  • Western world = no shortage of food, yet thinness is seen as the ideal.
  • Feingold and Mazzella (1998): since the 1950s, women have become increasingly dissatisfied with their body image. 
  • Toriola (1996): in cultures where thinness is valued less, there is less discrepancy between actual and ideal body weight/size.
  • Lorenzen (2004): males exposed briefly to ads where muscular male images shown report body dissatisfaction more than when exposed to normal size images in ads.
  • Yang (2005): countries where not exposed to such ads = little body image concerns.
  • UK Body Survey (2008): Fabulous magazine found that the national averae female size was 16, men's ideal femal size was 12 and women's ideal size was 8.

Health concerns.

  • What we eat can be linked to a range of diseases.
  • Restriction of certain foods can help to manage chronic diseases.
  • Some of us have allergies to certain goods which can lead to feeling ill.
  • Some food deficiencies can lead to an impaired immune system.
  • We can experience food poisoning.
  • Healthy eating is linked to the prevention of some diseases and…


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