Emotional Intelligence and Confidence Predict Food Choices

by | Oct 9, 2008

Making the right food choices is easier said than done. It is well known that nutrition knowledge alone is not enough to get people to change their eating habits. Both environment and emotional context also have an impact on what foods we pick.

Now new research shows that because of the unique emotional responses we have to food, better emotional intelligence and confidence contribute to an individual’s ability to make high-quality food selections. In other words, those of you who are good at dealing with your romantic relationships are probably making healthier food choices too.

Does this mean it is time for Love Dub and Thought for Food to unite? Quite possibly.

In two new studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research, scientists from the University of Kentucky asked whether a measure called “emotional calibration” influenced the quality of an individual’s food selections. Emotional calibration describes how closely someone’s self-confidence matches their emotional intelligence. They define emotional intelligence as the ability to “recognize the meanings of emotional patterns that underlie decision making and to reason and solve problems on the basis of these abilities.” Leave it to scientists to figure out how to objectify and measure qualities as ethereal as emotional reasoning.

Based on these measures, the researchers grouped participants into four categories. Over-confident people believe strongly in their ability to make the correct decision but do not have high emotional intelligence. In contrast, under-confident individuals do not believe in their own abilities but have high emotional intelligence. Both these groups are “miscalibrated.”

Emotionally “calibrated” individuals on the other hand present either strong confidence and high emotional intelligence or low confidence and low ability. Thus the term “calibration” refers to the matching between confidence and ability.

In the first study, the scientists asked if levels of emotional calibration could predict food choices. High confidence/high ability individuals reliably made healthier food choices than those of low confidence/low ability. Miscalibrated individuals with low confidence/high ability also performed slightly better than those of low confidence/low ability, while over-confident people made less healthy selections. Importantly, high-performing, well-calibrated individuals performed better than would be predicted based on cognitive ability alone.

In another study, the researchers asked if emotional calibration affects the food choices of highly vulnerable, obese individuals. Specifically they tested if emotional calibration is associated with impulsive eating habits. Their results show that emotional miscalibration significantly predicts impulsive eating behavior and higher caloric intake in obese individuals. Likewise, better calibrated people were less susceptible to impulsive eating cues.

Taken together these studies suggest that we have emotional responses to foods and that our ability to properly process and interpret these signals can impact the quality of our decision making. This adds to our understanding of why nutrition knowledge alone is insufficient for making healthy food selections. It also implies that improper emotional calibration can leave us vulnerable to impulsive behavior when choosing what and when to eat.

It is clear from this research that objective knowledge and ability is still the most important factor in good decision making, but it appears we should not underestimate the role of emotional intelligence. Interestingly, confidence can either help or hinder this process depending on ability. Though knowledgeable people do better with extra confidence, over-confidence cannot compensate for lack of ability.

For the best of both worlds, tune in each week to Thought for Food and Love Dub for expert advice on how to eat and how to love.

This article can also be found at Synapse.

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One Response to “Emotional Intelligence and Confidence Predict Food Choices”

  1. Jed Wolpaw says:

    Ahh. There’s nothing like a shout out to make your day. Love it. Couldn’t agree more. Confidence, calibrated with ability, the single best predictor of what kind of lover and what kind of eater, you are.

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