Want to Build Rapport? Eat Similar Foods

A new study at the University of Chicago shows that we can build rapport with a new acquaintance using a very simple strategy: sit together and eat the same type of food.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments to find out whether similar food consumption can enhance a sense of closeness and trust between adults.

During the first experiment, researchers paired each participant with a stranger to play an investment game designed to measure trust.

The participants received money that they could give to the stranger, who would invest the money, with a guarantee that the investment would double in value. The investors could then decide how much of the invested money to give back to their partners, if any.

Some pairs were given the same candy to snack on before the exercise, while others ate different candy. The findings show that the participants gave more money to the strangers when they had eaten the same type of candy.

In another experiment, pairs were assigned to opposing sides of a labor negotiation. Some pairs ate similar foods during the negotiations while others ate different foods. The pairs who had eaten similar foods reached an agreement almost twice as quickly as the groups that ate different types of food.

“People tend to think that they use logic to make decisions, and they are largely unaware that food preferences can influence their thinking,” said Ayelet Fishbach, Ph.D, a professor in the business school at the University of Chicago.

“On a very basic level, food can be used strategically to help people work together and build trust.”

At large group meetings, for example, organizers could limit the number of food options in order to encourage similar food consumption, resulting in increased trust and collaboration, said Kaitlin Woolley, one of the researchers.

On a more personal level, when ordering food during a meal with a colleague or a date, selecting a similar type of food could build rapport.

The researchers also discovered that these findings applied to marketing products. Participants trusted information from advertisers when consumers ate the same type of food as advertisers giving a testimonial about the product.

In a final test, the researchers wanted to determine whether other types of similarities had the same effect.

They tested whether outside observers thought individuals wearing shirts of the same color trusted each other more than individuals wearing different colored shirts. The findings show that shirt color did not have the same influence as food on perceived trust.

“I think food is powerful because it is something that we put into our bodies and we need to trust it in order to do that,” Fishbach said. “I hope our research will be used to connect people and facilitate conflict resolution. Our next goal is studying whether sharing food has an impact on trust and cooperation.”

The findings are published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Source: Society for Consumer Psychology