Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Are sweet-toothed people also sweet by nature?

Three years ago psychologists reported that we assume people who like sweet food are also sweet natured. More surprisingly perhaps, Brian Meier and his colleagues also found that the sweet-toothed really do have more agreeable personalities and are more inclined to behave altruistically.

How far can we trust these eye-catching results? There is a growing recognition in psychology of the need to attempt replications of past findings. In that spirit, a new paper led by Michael Ashton has attempted to replicate the specific finding that people who like sweet things are also more sweet natured.

Over 600 student participants completed personality and taste preference tests in pairs; a much larger sample than in the earlier research. In each pair both parties had known each other for at least six months. They scored their own personality and taste preferences, and in private they scored the personality of their friend. This is an advantage over the research from three years ago, which relied solely on people's self-reports of their own personality. Another advantage of the new study is that the researchers used two different personality scales - a measure of the Big Five factors used previously and also a measure of the so-called HEXACO personality dimensions, including honesty and humility.

A preference for sweet tasting foods did correlate with having more agreeable or prosocial personality traits using the HEXACO dimensions, but only weakly: 0.15 based on self-reports of personality and less than 0.10 based on the personality scores given by a friend. This rose to 0.19 and dropped to 0.06 using measures of the Big Five factor of agreeableness. These are modest associations and they're less than half the strength reported by Brian Meier and his colleagues three years ago.

Ashton and his colleagues aren't surprised that with a larger sample and more comprehensive personality measures they found a greatly reduced association between preference for sweet foods and having a sweet personality. They believe there's no compelling psychological explanation for why sweet-natured people should prefer sweet foods. After all, you could just as easily reason that a sweet-natured person doesn't need to seek out sweet tastes because they're sweet enough already, as reason that a sweet natured person is drawn to sweet tastes (this reminds me of a tea-shop waitress I encountered recently who asked every table "Would you like sugar or are you sweet enough already?").

If there isn't really a link between being sweet-natured and sweet-toothed (or only a very weak link), why is it our convention to describe altruistic, kind people as "sweet"? Ashton's team have a simple explanation: "... because sweet foods are generally liked very much, people may use 'sweet' and related words to describe anything - or anyone - that is especially appreciated or enjoyed."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Ashton, M., Pilkington, A., & Lee, K. (2014). Do prosocial people prefer sweet-tasting foods? An attempted replication of Meier, Moeller, Riemer-Peltz, and Robinson (2012) Journal of Research in Personality, 52, 42-46 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2014.06.006

--further reading--
Sweet-toothed and sweet natured - how people who like sweet things are sweet
Not so easy to spot: A failure to replicate the Macbeth Effect across three continents
A replication tour de force

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Research Digest said...

The children in this study fit squarely into the development theory of Erik Erikson. Their drive to do a good job is covered under the adolescent with the conflicting question of "Am I a successful or worthless person? This sense of industry vs. inferiority molds young children. Their anxiety seems to be driven by the need to be labeled and seen as successful by their peers, their parents, and themselves. Their temperament is shown in how they handle the situation. Having seen the test beforehand, the child could begin to feel more at ease knowing they already possess the skill set to solve the problem set before them. Through equilibration, they can apply or modify a well-known schema. This confidence can help to calm the children, so they can be more focused on answering the questions in front of them rather than an uncertainty that they may run into a question that they do not have the skill to tackle.

Research Digest said...

This sparked my attention because it made me think that maybe which side of our brain hemisphere we use more has anything to do with sweet tooth people being sweet natured. We know that each hemisphere of the brain controls different activities in different places of the body. So could people who crave sweet food mean they use one side of their brain more than the other? Or could something be wrong with people who don't like sweets in the passing of information from one hemisphere to another through the corpus callosum, be the reason they are not so sweet natured as people who are sweet toothed?

Research Digest said...

And, are beer drinkers bitter?

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.