Does Having a Sweet Tooth Make You Sweeter?

A quirky study suggests that people with a sweet tooth do indeed have sweeter dispositions. Even more surprising, those who momentarily savor sweets are more likely to volunteer and actually help others.

We often refer to a loved one or someone who is caring and compassionate as “sweet,” “sweetheart,” or “sweetie.” The word “sweet” can also be used to describe a kind action or a positive success – Sweet!

“Our findings are predictive. We did find a causal aspect: if you eat a sweet food, you’ll volunteer more of your time, compared to people who are randomly assigned to a cracker or a no-food test group,” says Brian Meier, Ph.D., lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Dr. Meier is Associate Professor, Psychology at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

chocolate barThe study included five separate tests conducted among students at North Dakota State University or Gettysburg College. In the first test, researchers found that people believed that strangers who like sweet foods were also more agreeable, which means they are considered to be friendly, cooperative and compassionate. The students were shown 100 pictures of strangers’ faces that had been paired with a food image from one of the five taste groups: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter or salty. More agreeable personality traits were attributed to those who were believed to enjoy sweet foods.

In another test, researchers found that people who rate themselves as having an agreeable personality do in fact prefer sweets to a greater extent than disagreeable people, showing that there is a kernel of truth in the link between a sweet tooth and a sweet disposition.

The bigger surprise came in the additional tests to explore intentions and actual behavior. People who liked sweets had greater intentions to volunteer their time to help others, such as cleaning up sandbags after a major nearby flood. Further, those with a sweet tooth were more likely to actually follow through on a request to fill out an unrelated survey and trudge up four flights of stairs on their own time to hand it in. In the last test, those who tasted a piece of chocolate offered to volunteer more minutes to help a psychology professor in an unrelated study than those who ate a sugarless, bland cracker or those who ate nothing at all, impressive since it was understood that the help would happen immediately after the completion of the sweet study.

“It’s exciting to see how these metaphors and the way we represent these concepts can affect our personality and our behavior. We may not know all of the reasons why yet, but this is an exciting area of research because it’s so intuitive,” says Dr. Meier.

It was a delight to speak with Dr. Meier about his sweet study, and kind of him to volunteer his time to help with this post. Which makes sense, because he said he made sure that he would be in agreeable mood to chat by eating a piece of chocolate just before the interview.

CONNECT THE DOTS

Another study, Personality Changes for the Better with Age suggests that agreeableness increases with age with the largest change happening during the 30s and continuing to improve through the 60s. You may also enjoy this story, “How to Kick the Added Sugar Habit.”

Originally published on GE Healthy Outlook, February 14, 2012. Copyright Jane Langille.

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