Being reluctant to try new foods can be a turn-off, according to new research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The new study provides evidence that the willingness to try new food can influence sexual desirability and is seen by others as a signal of sexual unrestrictedness.
Eating habits have been shown to be linked to certain stereotypes. For example, previous research has found that vegans and vegetarians are viewed as being less masculine than their meat-eating counterparts. Study author Hannah K. Bradshaw and her colleagues were interested in exploring how being willing or unwilling to try new foods might influence people’s impressions in a dating context.
“I was talking with a group of friends, and someone mentioned having dated a person who didn’t like to try new foods and only ate things like chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese,” said Bradshaw, an assistant professor of psychology at Washington & Jefferson College. “I noticed that people seemed to think this was an undesirable quality in a dating partner. This led me to wonder whether one’s willingness to try new food provides cues to mating-relevant characteristics.”
In an initial study, 193 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to read a brief description of an opposite-sex person who was either willing or reluctant to try new foods. The researchers found that the person tended to be rated as a more desirable sexual and romantic partner when he or she was described as being willing to try new foods.
In three additional studies, in which 323 participants viewed (fake) online dating profiles of opposite-sex individuals, Bradshaw and her colleagues found that those willing to try new foods were perceived as having had a greater number of past sexual partners and as being more open to uncommitted sexual relationships. They were also perceived as being less sensitive to sexual disgust, which partially explained perceptions of sexual unrestrictedness.
The researchers examined whether the willingness to try things in general (such as reading new books or listening to new music) would have a similar relationship to perceptions of sexual unrestrictedness. But the relationship appeared to be unique to the willingness to try new foods.
“Our results show that people use information about one’s willingness to try new foods when making judgments about important mating-relevant characteristics,” Bradshaw told PsyPost. “That is, people view those who are willing to try new foods as more desirable and less sexually restricted than those who are reluctant to try new foods. Essentially, one’s willingness to try new food plays a role in the impressions formed by prospective dates and mates.”
But all research includes some limitations, and the current study is no exception.
“Like a lot of research in the field of psychology, this research was conducted using a sample of college-aged students in the US. As such, the extent to which these findings generalize to older or non-US populations is unclear,” Bradshaw explained.
“In the current research, we found that people form these judgements based on explicit information about one’s willingness to try new food. Whether or not people form similar judgments based on more subtle cues that may be relayed during conversation is yet to be determined. Moreover, we still don’t know whether people might order more novel foods in situations where they are motivated to signal their desirability to prospective mates.”
“Research is a team sport. This work was made possible by my wonderful co-authors, Summer Mengelkoch, Matthew Espinosa, Alex Darrell, and Sarah E. Hill,” Bradshaw added.
The study, “You are what you (are willing to) eat: Willingness to try new foods impacts perceptions of sexual unrestrictedness and desirability,” was published online July 5, 2021.