Leaving your comfort zone for healthier eating? Situational factors influence the desire to eat comfort food and simulated energy intake

Signe Lund Mathiesen, Qian Janice Wang, Derek V. Byrne, Danae Moula-Stahli

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterResearchpeer-review


Comfort food has become a mainstay in vernacular language typically referring to so-called indulgent foods, whereas comfort eating is the practice of consuming food either associated with certain affective states, or triggering (positive) or suppress (negative) emotions and/or memories. While scientific research has been largely engaged with untangling the psychological and emotional factors contributing to comfort eating, the potential impact of the physical surroundings, the eating environment, on comfort eating behaviour has not been investigated to any meaningful extent. A limited amount of literature does seem to suggest that music-induced relaxation may lead to healthier food choices in retail environments. However, it remains to be investigated how contextual associations with comfort eating might moderate the putative healthy effects of relaxation.
The present study examined how relaxing vs. stressful music (RM/SM) in combination with relaxing vs. stressful locations (RL/SL), context, influences comfort eating desire, food choice, and simulated energy intake as well as the expected reward (pleasantness, enjoyment, and comfort) of eating. In an online experiment, participants (N=435) performed a simulated pasta dish assembly and eating task while imagining being in one of four audio-visual contexts (RM+RL; SM+SL; RM+SL; SM+RL). Results showed that the presence of either relaxing music or location in the imagined context significantly increased the desire to eat comfort food, which was in turn associated with higher calorie content of the selected dish. Our results challenge the view that a relaxing atmosphere necessarily supports healthy food choices. Potential implications of these findings for sensory and consumer science includes the appropriate consideration of the complex relationship between the consumer and their surroundings. Furthermore, this work provides important insights for both industry and private consumers to promote healthier behaviour and more enjoyable food experiences through customisable components in the eating environment, such as music.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date9 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2021
EventPangborn 2021: 14th Pangborn Sensory Science Symposium ‘Sustainable Sensory Science’ - Live and On-demand, Nantes, France
Duration: 9 Aug 202112 Aug 2021


ConferencePangborn 2021
LocationLive and On-demand
Internet address


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