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Saturday, September 01, 2012

[Psych] Afraid to eat alone?

A paper I wrote for a psychology module in one of my semesters in NUS. I find that the topic was an interesting one to write for a paper. (: I hope that this can dispel some notions that psychology majors have to write long boring papers. (: And for those more concerned with academics, I got an A- for this paper, however I did edit out some parts of it to make it an easier read.


Perhaps we don't eat alone more often because we’re taught not to—or rather we’re not taught how to. From day one we learn to eat in the company of others, and we figure out fast that the kids who eat alone at school are the kids who don’t have anyone to eat with. Socially, eating alone is not a sign of our strength, but of a lack of social standing. (Lenzer, 2010).

In an article in The Straits Times dated 7 Jan 2011, it was reported that students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have started an interesting campaign: OK to eat alone. According to the article, the fear of eating alone is rather prevalent. Most who fear eating alone would eat meals on the go, or skip meals altogether. This issue strikes me as interesting for I belong to the group of people who are “not aware that eating alone was an issue to be concerned about”. Though there is a stigma attached to eating alone, it itself is not a very detrimental one (unless a person ends up skipping too many meals because there is constantly no one to eat with).

So why do people fear eating alone? 

One very prominent reason raised in the article was that people did not want to create a negative impression of themselves when others viewed them eating alone. They fear that they would be labelled as “geeks or losers” (Tan, 2011) or the implication that you have no friends, lonely and isolated (Ang, 2011). This point ties in very strongly with self-presentation and social acceptance. Sometimes, people would present themselves in a manner that they know is not exactly true simply because being socially accepted is more important to them (as demonstrated in Asch’s conformity studies), especially when there are people watching (Baumeister & Bushman, 2011).

How did this stigma form? 

A very central concept that results in people fearing to eat alone is the stigma attached to it, that people who eat alone are basically loners. This may be due to an actor/observer bias – the tendency to make external attributions to one’s own behaviour and make internal attributions to others’ behaviour (Jones and Nisbett, 1971). If I were to eat alone, I would be very aware of the external reasons for doing so, such as ending lessons at an unusual timing. However, other people may view me as being a loner, who does not have friends to eat with. Coupled with the tendency for humans to seek self-knowledge via the looking glass self (Cooley, 1902), we would also be aware that we would be viewed negatively if we were to eat alone.

Observational learning can also play a part in strengthening this stigma attached to eating alone. By observing how others treat/view people who eat alone, we would understand that eating alone would be disadvantageous for social acceptance. Hence, we may develop the same attitudes and prefer not to eat alone whenever possible.

So what about those who do not fear eating alone? 

One possible reason is that the notion that “eating alone gives others a negative impression” was not ingrained into the minds of these people as compared to those who fear eating alone. In my previous segment, it seems that this stigma of eating alone is learned and is not something that people automatically come to know of. Therefore, the social environment is which people grow up in would play a significant part in whether a person will fear eating alone later in life.People who eat alone often may turn to self-serving biases (Baumeister & Bushman, 2011, p.83) to make themselves feel better, such as thinking that they are independent people who do not always need to rely on others. Focusing on the more positive aspects on eating alone, such as being able to concentrate solely on the taste of the food, practicality or to just have some time for introspection, may be the underlying social cognitions why some do not fear eating alone.

Melissa Lin (2011, January 7). Campaign message to chew on: OK to eat alone; NUS undergrads start Facebook campaign to tackle fear of dining solo. The Straits Times.
Suzanne Lenzer (2010, May 6). On eating alone. Retrieved from http://markbittman.com/on-eating-alone-0
Baumeister & Bushman (2011). Social psychology and human nature (2nd ed.). Wadsworth.

So how many psychology concepts did you spot?  (:



Zy Monday, October 29, 2012  

Interesting post! I eat alone muahhaa...
In Jap, this is very common...
Jia you!

雨夜 [アマヤ] Monday, October 29, 2012  

Thank you for your comment! I personally don't think it's a big deal to eat alone either... In HK, it's very common to have people staring at you while you eat haha!