A new paper claims that when study participants ate alone, the food tasted better and they ate more if they could see themselves reflected in a mirror. This was true of both elderly and young adult participants.
In elderly Japanese, a similar increase in the appeal of food was seen when the mirror was replaced with a photo.
Writing in in Physiology & Behavior, they initially worked with a group of older adult volunteers. Approaches to enhance enjoyment of food in people eating without company are particularly relevant for elderly people, because research has shown that many frequently eat alone. However, when the team repeated the experiment with young adult volunteers, they observed the same "social" facilitation of eating when a mirror was present, suggesting that the effect is not limited to older people.
In a further experiment, when the researchers replaced the mirror with photos of the volunteers eating, they discovered that the volunteers still experienced an increase in the appeal of food and ate more. Thus, perhaps surprisingly, a static image of a person eating seems sufficient to produce the "social" facilitation of eating.
"Studies have shown that for older adults, enjoying food is associated with quality of life, and frequently eating alone is associated with depression and loss of appetite," corresponding author Nobuyuki Kawai says. "Our findings therefore suggest a possible approach to improving the appeal of food, and quality of life, for older people who do not have company when they eat--for example, those who have suffered loss or are far away from their loved ones."