We all have our go-to comfort food.
And yes, it does make us feel warm and fuzzy inside on those days when we can’t even. But there’s more behind our craving for shameless comfort food than a means to fuel the soul after a particularly difficult day (or during an epic hangover).
New research suggests that comfort foods remind us of our social ties, so they help us feel less lonely when we feel isolated. In a study released earlier this month, Jordan Troisi, an assistant professor of psychology at Sewanee, The University of The South, and his team of researchers found that people with strong relationships preferred the taste of good, old-fashioned comfort food when they were lonely.
Like the comforting hug of a parent or grandparent, comfort food is very significantly associated with close relationships, according to Troisi.
“This probably comes about by individuals coming to associate a particular food item with members of their family, social gatherings, and people taking care of them, which is why we see a lot of comfort foods [that are] traditional meals or things had at a party,” says Troisi.
For this reason, what constitutes comfort food varies from person to person, as Troisi discovered when he asked people to write about an experience they had with a comfort food.
“It’s not just that ice cream, for instance, is really tasty. It’s that someone has developed a really significant meaning behind the idea of ice cream due to their relationships with others, and that’s what is triggering this effect,” he says.
Even the smell of certain dishes can elicit feelings of nostalgia and belonging.
To draw such conclusions, the researchers conducted one experiment and one daily diary study using two samples of university students from the U.S. The first study utilized a belongingness threat essay among half of the participants, and the results showed that securely attached participants preferred the taste of a comfort food more after the belongingness threat. The second study utilized a 14-day dairy design and found that securely attached people consume more comfort food when experiencing feelings of isolation.
Whatever it is, shut up and pass the pierogis…