As we approach Valentine’s Day, countless couples and prospective couples alike will head off for the customary romantic dinner (on a related note, see my earlier post titled Beware of Valentine’s Day Gift Traps: Men and Women are Indeed from Mars and Venus Respectively). Clearly, food sharing can be a very intimate social activity whether in the mating context or among friends or families. With that in mind, Kevin M. Kniffin and Brian Wansink sought to explore whether men and women would experience greater jealousy when their current romantic partners get together with an ex-partner to specifically share food (lunch or dinner) versus other meetings (e.g., getting together for a coffee). Note that in my immediately previous Psychology Today article, I covered one of their other recent papers on death row inmates’ last meal requests and last words. Kniffin and Wansink are coming up with ever-so clever ways to conduct research on food! Prior to delving into their study, readers might be interested in two of my previous Psychology Today articles in which I explored sex differences in romantic jealousy, as well as sex differences in triggers of envy.
Returning to their recent jealousy and food sharing paper, which was published in PLOS ONE in 2012, in the first study 79 participants (52 men) were asked to provide their jealousy scores (1-5 scale: ‘Not at all Jealous’ to ‘Very Jealous’) for the following six vignettes:
"Recently, your [romantic partner] was contacted by his/her ex [romantic partner] and she/he spent approximately one hour' (1) corresponding via email, (2) talking on the phone, (3) meeting for late morning coffee, (4) meeting for a late-morning meal (or Lunch), (5) meeting for late-afternoon coffee, and (6) meeting for a late afternoon meal (or Dinner)."
In the second study, the exact same vignettes were shown to 74 participants (51 women), and they were asked to gauge the jealousy scores of their “best same-sex friend” if he/she were faced with each of the six situations. The objective of study 2 was to project the participants' own jealousy scores onto a third party (the best friend) and in doing so attenuate the possibility of responder bias (e.g., social desirability bias).
Here are some of the key findings (see the paper for additional pair-wise comparisons across conditions):
1) In either study, no sex differences were obtained for any of the six vignettes. This is somewhat surprising in light of the numerous studies that have documented sex differences in the triggers of romantic jealousy.
2) In both studies, phone conversations elicited greater jealousy than email communiqués (p < .001 and p < .0001 for studies 1 and 2 respectively). This is perhaps not surprising in that phone conversations are likely construed as more intimate in nature.
3) For each study, the researchers amalgamated the data for the two meal conditions as well as those of the two coffee conditions, and then compared the means of the aggregated data. In both cases, meals elicited greater jealousy than coffee get-togethers (p = 0.34 and p < .01 for studies 1 and 2 respectively).
4) Get-togethers later in the day triggered greater jealousy than their counterparts earlier in the day. This held true in study 1 when comparing late afternoon coffees to late morning coffees (p = .001), and in study 2 when comparing dinners to lunches (p < .01).
So unlike the implication of the name of the famous matching making service It’s Just Lunch, get-togethers over meals carry jealousy-inducing connotations of intimacy. Bon appétit!
For those interested in food-related themes (and as I list in my previous post as well), here are some of my other Psychology Today articles on this general topic:
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