Eating together: The effect of social context on eating behaviour and appetite

The UK has the sixth highest rates of obesity in the world, with over one quarter of adults currently classified as obese. 

This is perhaps not surprising, given the availability of large portion-sizes, and the low cost and convenience of highly palatable, energy-dense foods. There is also evidence that rates of overweight and obesity spread throughout social networks, highlighting the important role that social context plays on our food choices. Indeed, evidence shows that the eating behaviour of socially connected individuals becomes increasingly similar over time and, during the course of a single meal, people tend to eat similar amounts to a co-eater. There is also evidence that eating socially may facilitate eating; both humans and nonhuman animals have been found to eat more when eating in groups, compared to alone, and food intake tends to increase as a function of group size. Yet despite its fundamental influence over food intake, there is little understanding regarding the specific mechanisms which underlie the social facilitation of eating.

This project has two primary aims:

1) to examine why people eat more when eating with other people, compared to eating alone, and

2) to establish whether people compensate for socially facilitated eating by eating less at a later meal. In doing so, the project will provide a novel framework for understanding the mechanisms by which social context influences eating, and will help to inform recommendations for healthy eating practices.

Project funding

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Grant code:

Research Group

Research team

  • Professor Suzanne Higgs – Professor in Psychology
  • Dr Helen Ruddock – Research Fellow 


  • Professor Jeffrey Brunstrom (University of Bristol)
  • Professor Manfred Hallschmid – University Tübingen
  • Professor Lenny Vartanian (University of New South Wales)


Contact us

If you have any questions, please e-mail Helen Ruddock

The social norms research group is part of the Eating Behaviour Research Unit (EBRG).