Eating From a Shared Plate Encourages Cooperation

Perhaps the next round of North Korean negotiations should include a family style meal.
Author:
Publish date:
toast dessert heart plate pancake

Researchers report that, in three experiments, people who consumed food together from a common plate or bowl were subsequently more cooperative and less competitive, making it easier for them to reach agreement on a contentious issue.

President Donald Trump's recent summit with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un ended in embarrassing failure, and Trump's occasional attempts to forge deals with Congressional Democrats have usually gone just as poorly. New research points to another technique the president might try, one that involves one of his favorite pastimes: eating.

Researchers report that, in three experiments, people who consumed food together from a common plate or bowl were subsequently more cooperative and less competitive, making it easier for them to reach agreement on a contentious issue.

This effect was found among both strangers and friends, according to researchers Kaitlin Woolley of Cornell University and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago. The findings suggest that "sharing plates can bring together more than just allies," as they write in the journal Psychological Science.

Their first experiment featured 200 university students, who were told the experiment was about "how hunger impacts decisions." After being paired up, participants began the experiment by enjoying a chips-and-salsa snack.

When finished, they took part in a role-playing exercise, in which they strived to resolve a strike by negotiating an hourly wage increase. One played the role of union leader, the other the role of management representative.

Half of the pairs ate their stack from a single 40-gram bowl of tortilla chips and one 50-gram salsa bowl. The others ate from smaller, separate bowls.

The researchers found that, on average, those who ate from the same bowls reached agreements faster, resulting in shorter strikes.

These results were replicated in two follow-up studies. In one, half of the duos were composed of two friendly acquaintances, while the others consisted of two people who had just met. On average, all the duos worked more cooperatively after eating from the same bowl.

Woolley and Fishbach argue that this increased cooperation follows logically from the process of taking food from a common plate. Eating in such a way prompts people to "coordinate consumption with others to ensure that everyone receives a fair share," they note.

That behavior, which is enforced by social norms (no one wants to be seen as a pig), apparently puts one in a cooperative state of mind.

But don't try this at an all-you-can-eat buffet: As the researchers note, access to unlimited amounts of food would presumably negate the positive effect.

Now, Trump is famously germaphobic, so he may be reluctant to share a plate of food with others—especially people he considers adversaries. And, whatever your approach to meals, you still need a working knowledge of the subject at hand to have a reasonable shot of reaching an agreement on a given dispute.

Still, it's worth a try. Breaking bread together can be a powerful tool—especially when you're nibbling from the same loaf.

Related