When you’re eating dinner and your partner reaches across the table to take a few forkfuls of your dessert without your consent, you might get a little pissed off. You can probably even remember a few times when taking food in this manner started an all-out fight between you two or other friends. As it turns out, your animalistic rage isn’t entirely your fault.
According to animal behavior researcher Jennifer Verdolin, PhD, we need to consider how things work in the animal kingdom. Food is a resource, and “the better the resource, the less likely you are to want to share it,” she said. “Especially if it is hard to come by.” For example, that delicious dessert you rarely treat yourself to, it’s essentially a scarce resource that you want to keep for yourself.
Now, if someone takes your food without permission, it also registers with us as a sign of dominance, said Dr. Verdolin, of which, of course, we don’t feel favorably about.
But sharing food with friends or a love interest has been shown to actually strengthen the relationship. A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences found that sharing food releases oxytocin in both giver and receiver, thus facilitating bonding. Sharing really is caring.
“The release amplifies emotions, and creates a feedback loop,” said Dr. Verdolin. You could be more inclined to repeat this behavior in the future with this person.
Family is a bit of a difference situation. You may be more inclined to share since they’re related. The one exception, however, is often the sharing between parent and child. Parents stealing bites of their kid’s meal may be a way of displaying dominance, said Verdolin.
If you’re open to sharing food, it might be because you don’t consider that meal that great of a resource, or potentially that you also want what someone else at the table has and you’re willing to trade.
Of course, other things come into play when talking about the complexities of human interactions, but what’s important to remember is that regardless of where you stand on the subject, your fellow diners might not feel the same way, so it’s always best to ask and avoid the dinner table drama.
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