The social facilitation of eating: why does the mere presence of others cause an increase in energy intake?

Helen K. Ruddock, Jeffrey M. Brunstrom, Suzanne Higgs*

*Corresponding author for this work

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There is strong evidence that people eat more when eating with friends and family, relative to when eating alone. This is known as the ‘social facilitation of eating’. In this review, we discuss several gaps in the current scientific understanding of this phenomenon, and in doing so, highlight important areas for future research. In particular, we discuss the need for research to establish the longer-term consequences of social eating on energy balance and weight gain, and to examine whether people are aware of social facilitation effects on their own food intake. We also suggest that future research should aim to establish individual and contextual factors that moderate the social facilitation of eating (e.g. sex/gender), and it should clarify how eating socially causes people to eat more. Finally, we propose a novel evolutionary framework in which we suggest that the social facilitation of eating reflects a behavioural strategy that optimises the evolutionary fitness of individuals who share a common food resource.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113539
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant: ES/P01027X/1 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

Not yet published in issue 23/09/2021


  • Eating behaviour
  • Evolution
  • Social facilitation of eating
  • Social influences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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