Eating in front of a mirror makes meals taste better, say scientists

Sarah Knapton
Watching TV in front of the television may make food taste worse, the new study also showed  - Corbis

Eating in front of a mirror makes meals taste better, a new study suggests.

Previous studies have found that people rate food as more flavoursome and, eat bigger portions, when they dine with company, a phenomenon known as ‘the social facilitation of eating.’

But researchers at Nagoya University in Japan wanted to find out whether the effect could be recreated by simply using a mirror, to trick the brain into thinking another person was present.

"We wanted to find out what the minimum requirement is for the social facilitation of eating," said lead author Dr Ryuzaburo Nakata.

"Does another person have to actually be physically present, or is information suggesting the presence of others sufficient?"

For the experiment, 16 adults aged between 65 and 74, were invited to eat salted or caramel popcorn for 90 seconds and then rate their enjoyment when sitting alone, in front of a mirror, or watching a monitor showing a video of them eating.

The researchers found that people eating alone reported food as tasting better, and ate more of it, when they could see themselves reflected in a mirror, compared with when they ate in front of a monitor. Eating in front of a mirror improved sweetness by 25 per cent, goodness by 21 per cent and quality by 12 per cent.

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.

The study could help lonely people to enjoy their food more 

The researchers are hoping that the findings could help lonely older people enjoy their food more and eat larger portions.

"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," added corresponding author Dr Nobuyuki Kawai.

"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."

The research was published in the journal Physiology & Behaviour.