Comfort Foods or Foods that Comfort?
Our attraction to specific foods that we think makes us feel better is based in our heads. Specifically, the insular cortex is associated with feelings of warmth on both physical and interpersonal levels. In an experiment involving two groups of undergraduate students who were exposed to holding warm and cold objects, in the first part of the study involving the rating of a person's psychological traits, the student's who held the warm object (cup of coffee) rated the person "significantly warmer" but no different in other traits.The students who held the cold beverage rated the person as "less warm" but similar in the other rating categories. In the second part of the study, the subjects were asked to evaluate a product and to pick up and hold either a warm or cold object. Afterward, they were offered a gift for their participation. Those who picked up the warm pad were more likely to select a gift for another person than a reward for themselves.
Do the foods that we regard as comfort foods work to uncover our memories of pleasant experiences? Do we conjure up images of Mom serving our favorite childhood meal? Proust talked about the smells of a bakery emanating from the street to a balcony where he was standing and being flooded with memories of the past.Our perceptions are influenced by many factors, some internal and some external. Obviously, a part of our brain brokers these perceptions with stored memories and contributes to our judgment of a situation as well as our related behavior.
So, when that Christmas dinner comes out of the oven next week and we feel the warmth of family and friends, do enjoy the moment.