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New research says sweets help your disposition

Published: 12 September 2011


A new study by NDSU alumni and a faculty member suggests people with a “sweet tooth” have sweeter dispositions. The research was conducted by Brian Meier, PhD ’05 and an associate professor of psychology at Gettysburg College; Michael D. Robinson, NDSU professor of psychology; and Sara Moeller, MS ’08, PhD ’11, and assistant professor at Saint Xavier University.

The paper, “Sweet Taste Preferences and Experiences Predict Pro-Social Inferences, Personalities, and Behaviors,” has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

According to Meier, “Taste is something we experience every day. Our research examined whether metaphors for taste preferences and experiences can be used to shed light on personality traits and behavior.”

In one study, the authors found participants who ate a sweet food (a piece of Dove's chocolate) versus a non-sweet food (a cracker) or no food were more likely to volunteer to help another person in need. The authors also found that people believe that a person who likes sweet foods like candy or chocolate cake is also more agreeable or helpful.

"It is striking that helpful and friendly people are considered ‘sweet’ because taste would seem to have little in common with personality or behavior. Yet, recent psychological theories of embodied metaphor led us to hypothesize that seemingly innocuous metaphors can be used to derive novel insights about personality and behavior," said Meier.

Robinson said, “Our results suggest there is a robust link between sweet tastes and pro-social behavior. Such findings reveal that metaphors can lead to unique and provocative predictions about people's behaviors and personality traits.”

The authors also showed that people who like sweet foods versus individuals who do not were higher in the personality trait of agreeableness and were more likely to volunteer to help clean up their city after it experienced a major flood. In other words, the authors demonstrated people can predict how helpful or nice someone is based on whether he or she prefers eating sweet foods. 

Miles Riemer-Peltz of Gettysburg College also was a co-author of the paper.

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Last Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013