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Social Norms – Mysterious Forces That Shape Eating

You are fully in control over your food choices, right?
Well, we know that a wide range of rules govern how we act, and even our beliefs, when we’re with different groups of people.  Social psychologists characterize this influence as ‘social norms,’ and guess what? This influence affects eating, too. 

When it comes to eating behavior, we tend to disregard the power of a type of social norm called ‘descriptive norms’ which is what we think other people actually do in a given situation. We’re much more likely to attribute the reasons for what we choose to eat to our health goals – or to hunger and taste preferences – rather than to what people around us are doing.

But some recent research has suggested that the social environment can have surprisingly powerful effects on what we eat, and how much. A prior study has shown that individuals may modify their food intake in response to that of their dining companions. And numerous studies have found that people, in general, are more likely to choose calorie-dense food when they believe that others around them are eating that way.

In this latest episode of humanOS radio, I interview Emma Templeton from Thalia Wheatley’s lab at Dartmouth and Michael Stanton, Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing & Health Sciences, California State University, East Bay. Recently, they published a study that elegantly tests the influence of social norms on the perceived healthfulness of food and also eating behavior.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the experiment.


The researchers recruited 120 Stanford students and divided them into three different conditions: 

  1. Healthy Norm
  2. Unhealthy Norm
  3. No Norm

In the experiment, the participants were presented with a series of food images. Half of the images depicted healthy (fruits and veggies) the other half unhealthy foods (pastries, junk food, stuff like that). After each image was shown, a participant would rate the food on a healthfulness scale of 1-8. 

After making each rating, participants were shown the average rating of that item from their peers. This average score was ostensibly calculated from the responses of 200 other Stanford students. In truth, this average group score was manipulated by the researchers to be higher or lower than what the individual selected. The participants in the Healthy Norm condition viewed peer ratings that favored healthy foods, while those in the Unhealthy Norm group saw peer ratings biased toward the unhealthy foods. The No Norm group functioned as a control group, and thus was not exposed to peer ratings.

Afterwards, participants were given a second round of testing to see if the average opinion of their peer group impacted their next round of decisions. They returned to the lab three days later for a second testing session to determine the if the impact of the peer group exposure persisted.

One more thing: after the testing session was complete, the subjects were permitted to leave, but on the way out, they were encouraged to take some M&Ms from a jar on the desk. The jar was weighed before and after each participant passed through to measure if social norms also had an effect on eating behavior in real life.

So what happened? Listen below to learn about the results, and what they reveal about the impact of social norms on eating behavior.

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Mike Stanton: Positive eating behavior is social behavior and positive social influence and so this just further solidifies how important it is to get your partners involved in your eating behavior. Even people at work, friends, maybe even telling people that you’re trying a new eating plan or that you’re changing your “diet.” That can be really powerful in helping move your diet in the healthy direction.

Kendall Kendrick: [00:00:30] humanOS. Learn, master, achieve.

Dan Pardi: Okay, Emma Templeton and Mike Stanton. Welcome to humanOS Radio.

Emma Templeton: Thank you.

Mike Stanton: Hey, thanks!

Dan Pardi: You guys recently published a very interesting paper in the journal PLOS ONE and Mike, you and I have known each other for a little while through our Stanford connection.

Mike Stanton: Yeah.

Dan Pardi: Tell us a little bit more about [00:01:00] the work that you’ve done and your background and then Emma, we’ll do the same with you.

Mike Stanton: I start off at Harvard med school, and then I was working on addictions research. That led me to learn about behavioral addictions which led me to eating and I did my PhD at Duke in behavioral medicine in focusing on obesity and eating behaviors. Then, ended up at Stanford doing my postdoc where I met you. I’m a clinical psychologist.

Dan Pardi: Perfect, thanks. Emma, what’s your background?

Emma Templeton: I am a psychology graduate student at Dartmouth college right now. I don’t have [00:01:30] a strong health background so I’m at this study from a psychological standpoint. I’ve always worked in psychological and social neuroscience labs and in this project I was really interested in social norms and how they worked and we happen to use food as our stimulus?

Dan Pardi: Tell me a little bit more about the lab that you guys were working in when this study was conducted.

Emma Templeton: I was working in Jamil Zaki’s lab and Jamil has done a lot of really interesting work on conformity and social influence and this study was an extension of some of his other work where we were really interested in [00:02:00] how people learn norms. Specifically, norm rule and to what extent learning these norms can influence behavior.

Dan Pardi: I’m sure most of our listeners recognize these term, but what’s the actual definition of what social norms are?

Emma Templeton: It’s a good question with a little bit of a complicated answer. You can think of norms in several different bins. The way that we talk about norms in this paper is we break them into injunctive social norms and descriptive social norm. Injunctive norms would your perception of what other people think we should do in a situation. [00:02:30] In example here would be we should eat healthy foods. That’s an injunctive norm that we all kind of have.

Dan Pardi: Okay, so you’re thinking other people think this way.

Emma Templeton: Yeah, it’s what you should do in a situation so you should be nice to people, you should be fair. Then, there are descriptive norms which we manipulate in this study and descriptive social norms would be your perception of what most people are actually doing in a situation. You might believe that a lot of people are smoking or a lot of people are eating unhealthily or a lot of people are littering [00:03:00] and seeing this behavior around you can influence your own behavior so we tend to do what we think other people are doing.

Mike Stanton: It’s what people are doing versus what they think we should be doing.

Dan Pardi: Right, and these types of studies, the design needs to be considerate of whether it’s testing declared or revealed preferences and behavior. For instance are you testing what people say they do or what they actually did? What were you specifically looking at in this study?

Emma Templeton: I can kind of back up and talk about the research that happened before this that led [00:03:30] this point.

Dan Pardi: Absolutely.

Emma Templeton: There’s this really nice paradigm that Jamil has used and other people have used that gets at the extent to which people change their preferences based on what a group is telling them to do. Just to make this more concrete, the way these studies normally work is participants come into the lab and then they see a series of images. In these first set of studies, they would see attractive faces, faces of females. These would be male participants and they would come into the lab and they would rate each face on how attractive [00:04:00] it was. Then, after they made that rating, they would see what a group of their peers believed the attractiveness of that face was. Over a series of trials, they’re rating how attractive they think a face is and then they see what their peer group believes.

Importantly, these peer group ratings were manipulated such that a fourth of the time they were greater than the participants initial rating, a fourth of the time they were lower than the participants initial rating, a fourth of the time they were exactly the same time, and a fourth of the time they received no information. What’s [00:04:30] cool is that in a follow-up rerating task where participants see the exact same set of stimuli and are asked to make these ratings a second time, you see that participants conform. On faces where the peer group rated the face that’s more attractive than they did initially, they nudged their ratings in a direction towards the influence of the peer group.

Jamil and other people have expanded on this idea using neuroimaging to to try to answer this question that you brought up. Are people just changing their references explicitly or are they experiencing real changes [00:05:00] where they’re actually seeing these faces as more attractive. You can get at this by using neural imaging where we have these established robust signatures of reward and you get really nice evidence that when participants see these faces a second time or when participants see these food images a second time, they’re actually experiencing them as more rewarding. Suggesting that the influence of conformity or social influence is actually changing the reward value of these stimuli.

Dan Pardi: That is so interesting. We probably think our behavior [00:05:30] is guided by our own beliefs almost exclusively, but what’s demonstrated here is that our actual opinions and perspectives are shaped by those around us to a pretty significant degree. That was the background research that informed her study and you wanted to apply a similar model to assess how social norms influence perspectives and behaviors on food?

Emma Templeton: Yeah, so Jamil and Eric Nook, before I got there, actually ran the same study using food images and they did it in the FMRI scanner as well and found very similar results as they did with the attractive faces. [00:06:00] The important thing to note in their study was that, again, these people were conforming on an item by item basis so they would see how much people liked spinach and they would see how much people liked chocolate cake for example. They might get feedback that people liked spinach and chocolate cake a lot, but if we care about people’s eating behavior, we might want them to believe that people like spinach more than chocolate cake.

What we wanted to do in this follow-up study was rather than give people feedback [00:06:30] in this idiosyncratic way, we wanted to provide an underlying rule so we took all of the healthy food images and all of the unhealthy food images and based on what condition our participants were in, we let them learn over time that their peer group either a preference for healthy foods or a preference for unhealthy foods. We had a couple of questions. One, can people pick up this norm rule to begin with.

You’re getting feedback still on this item by item way, but it’s following the rules so do people pick up on that? Two, do they adjust [00:07:00] their behavior in accordance this overall rule and then to what extent are they able to generalize this rule to images that we haven’t shown them before and to what extent the effects of this intervention persists. We actually bring them back into the lab a few days later, see if the effects of this intervention persist and we give them a chance to actually eat some unhealthy foods and measure that as well.

Dan Pardi: Can social norms move the needle in both directions, both a healthy direction and an unhealthy direction with equal strength?

Emma Templeton: Yeah, so in the context, the results of our [00:07:30] study had this asymmetry that you’re bringing up which was pretty interesting. In our first run where everyone is getting feedback and learning this rule on-the-fly, you do see really nice results where participants who are exposed to this healthy norm rate healthy foods higher than unhealthy foods and unhealthy foods lower than … Sorry, this is a little complicated to explain.

Dan Pardi: No worries. You could start over.

Mike Stanton: In general, they moved in the healthy direction. We found it was easier [00:08:00] to have them move in the healthy direction rather than getting people to move in that unhealthy direction.

Dan Pardi: Interesting. There was an easier time moving these values towards healthy. I think that’s good. Did you measure people’s baseline characteristics with respect to caring about healthy eating before studying them?

Emma Templeton: Yeah, so we actually had three conditions in our studies. A group of our participants were exposed to a healthy norm where they saw ratings that suggested their peer group seems to prefer healthy foods. We had a second condition where participants were exposed to an unhealthy [00:08:30] norm where they learned that their peer group seems to prefer unhealthy foods. Then, we have a control condition that did the same task, but didn’t receive any feedback. We can think of our control condition as people’s baseline preferences for healthy and unhealthy foods.

Dan Pardi: Right.

Emma Templeton: We see that under control condition rates healthy foods and unhealthy foods about equally and relatively high and the effect that we find overall is really within the domain of unhealthy foods. Across all of our conditions, healthy norm, unhealthy norm, and control [00:09:00] people seem to be raiding healthy foods relatively high, but what we really find a difference are our participants in the healthy norm condition are driving down their preferences for unhealthy foods. There’s this asymmetry both within condition and within food type where we’re getting the most movement in the unhealthy food preferences.

Dan Pardi: Well, that’s good.

Mike Stanton: Yeah.

Dan Pardi: That’s good. That’s what we need. That means that we can pull people in the right direction.

Mike Stanton: Right. Was your question that did we control for initial preferences?

Dan Pardi: It was more about what were the characteristics of the people that [00:09:30] were in the study. Did they tend to want to eat more healthfully?

Mike Stanton: I see.

Dan Pardi: Did they not really care? Were they junk food addicts?

Emma Templeton: That’s a really good question.

Mike Stanton: Yeah.

Emma Templeton: Especially, given our stimulus stats, it’s important to know who these people were. Because you can imagine that the effects of this intervention or the results might be different in different populations so our participants were all Stanford students. Number one, the reason we did this is because we told them that the feedback they were getting was an aggregate of fellow Stanford students. This is because people [00:10:00] care about social norm information when it’s self relevant. Given that this was just a way to insure that they cared about the information that they were getting so we made them all Stanford students and given that we’re dealing with food stimulate, people respond to food stimulate differently and we wanted to control for that at some level. We screened participants beforehand and we didn’t take anyone that had dietary restrictions or that identified as being a dieter. These are all Stanford students [00:10:30] who are not dieting.

Dan Pardi: I know you also wanted to evaluate whether this influence of social norms persisted over time. How did you measure that?

Emma Templeton: The effects of the norm intervention persisted from 10 minutes after to three days after the initial intervention, which was pretty cool to see. In fact, the graphs were so similar that I had to keep double checking that my numbers were correct because they just really look identical.

Dan Pardi: I noticed that when looking at your graphs. It made me think is your estimation of the quality of something [00:11:00] determined by your last mind state and if so what determines that mind state in that moment? Your emotions, your pre-existing beliefs, the strength of those beliefs, and of course how strong the social norm pressure is in that moment. My thought was if this is somewhat true and your brain determined a value in that moment, would that value persist until your next exposure? In other words, the next time you were making a decision on that food. At least in this study over the three days, that value seemed to be exactly where it was last left.

Emma Templeton: [00:11:30] Yeah, at least in terms of people’s preferences in this task. You can imagine they’re entering the same lab, they’re sitting at the same computer, and they’re conducting the same task so they might be able to snap back into whatever mindset they were at the last time they were conducting a preference task.

Dan Pardi: Right, with those conditions being identical if not fully natural since it’s in a lab then it’s probably closer to the ideal condition to see this effect if it were actually there. Outside the lab however, there’s so many influences you may not [00:12:00] be about to detect it as clearly.

Mike Stanton: That’s a lot of what Emma and I were talking about the other day. About just sort of applying this to a real life situation and just how often times a lot of these findings will change.

Dan Pardi: Yeah.

Mike Stanton: Because people are not like research subjects. Real people, not necessarily and changing someone’s diet can be very complicated.

Dan Pardi: Right. Whenever we study the brain it’s hard to isolate discrete effects like for example if your trying to study executive functions. Are you sure that your task that you’re using  are using to measure it is not influenced by other brain processes that are not considered [00:12:30] executive functions. Like raw alertness level for instance. It’s stuff like that that just makes brain research complicated and confusing.

Mike Stanton: Yeah, I was saying that I worked in a bariatric surgery clinic for several years and trying to get people to change their diets is very complicated and there’s some really unique reasons why people might persist in a bad diet. For example, I was telling Emma yesterday that I’ve had patients who for example they had a traumatic childhood experience and they found that by eating or by being heavy that [00:13:00] that kind of warded off some of the unwanted attention from an abuser or I’ll have a patient who is losing weight and their partner becomes jealous because they’re all of a sudden becoming more attractive and they’re getting more attention and it’s hard to change someone’s diet when they’re having that kind of pressure from their partner. It’s funny, I mention it because I’m involved in another study at Stanford and we’re finding that the psychological factors are incredibly important for why some people [00:13:30] stick to a healthy diet and other people don’t.

Dan Pardi: Did you do any brain imaging in this study?

Emma Templeton: Not in this study. No, we were really interested in the behavioral changes.

Dan Pardi: What are your next steps? Would you like to take this line of research a step farther?

Emma Templeton: I think other people should take this line of research a step farther and people are doing really great work figuring out different types of interventions that may be helpful and importantly figuring out what types of interventions work well for different types of people.

Dan Pardi: I’ve been digging about [00:14:00] this subject for a while myself and a few years ago I came across this great paper from Todd Hare and Tony Rangel at Caltech and it was published in the journal of neuroscience and your paper reminded me of their work almost instantaneously. What did they do? They had subjects make food decisions while getting their brain scanned and what they wanted to do is look at two areas of the brain. One called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which is involved in self-control and delayed gratification. The other one is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, so a different part of the prefrontal [00:14:30] cortex and this is an area that responds to palpable foods and the response of this area when being scanned diminishes inactivity when you feed somebody palatable foods to satiety.

What do they have them? Well, they were interested in the activity of these two different brain centers and while making food choice. They would show the participants images of food and then they would ask them the question, “Do you want to eat this?” Importantly, after they went through all the different food items they were going to actually get one of the items to eat, [00:15:00] so they went through all the different food choices, but every 10 items they would actually change. They’d tell the participant something, they would tell them think about tastes. Next 10 items, think about healthfulness/ Next 10 items, think about nothing, and then they would repeat. What was really interesting is that when you’re not thinking about anything, you have basically the exact same brain activation as when you are told to think about taste which is pretty interesting because it shows us what we’re thinking about when we’re not thinking about anything, [00:15:30] we’re thinking about how good the food tastes.

There is no difference in brain activation and there is basically no activity in that self-control area, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. When they are told to think about the healthfulness of the food, one, they were less likely to eat unhealthy foods. They said “no” more, basically, and you also saw that this ventromedial prefrontal cortex was essentially more responsive to healthy foods because of the influence of the self-control area. The self-control area activated and then modified the activation [00:16:00] of this other center which is involved in satiety. When you’re thinking about health, it activates the self-control area and it helps you make better food choices. I thought, I read your study and was like, yeah, this matches up at least somewhat with what I’ve read previously. Now, in the work that was looking at the attractiveness of faces, what brain areas were activated? You did mention that some of the reward areas were activated. Anything else that was interesting?

Emma Templeton: Yeah, so that the study, the reward areas were nucleus accumbens and then orbital frontal [00:16:30] cortex.

Dan Pardi: Yeah, also important for food.

Mike Stanton: Right.

Dan Pardi: It does multimodal sensory integration of different sorts of how good did it taste and smell and then that depending on the different parts the orbital frontal cortex it’ll register a memory for that food experience and then it can also help to activate food pursuit once you get hungry later. You’re hungry and you’re thinking, “What do I want to eat?” Another part of the orbital frontal cortex becomes active and it remembers the most palatable food you’ve had and you’re like, ‘I think I want an ice cream sandwich.” Great, okay, so other people should follow up on this line [00:17:00] of work. What kind of interventions would you come up with to try to affect eating behaviors in a positive way?

Mike Stanton: Well, one thing that comes to mind immediately is just like I was saying. Working in that clinic, one of the biggest motivators of positive eating behavior is social behavior and positive social influence. This just further solidifies how important it is to get your partners involved in your eating behavior, even people at work, friends, in trying to … Maybe even telling people that you’re [00:17:30] trying a new eating plan or that you’re changing your “diet,” that can be really powerful in helping to move your diet in the healthy direction.

Dan Pardi: It’s probably one of the reasons we see health cluster in different parts of the world and in parts of the United States at least.

Mike Stanton: Yeah.

Dan Pardi: Areas of Los Angeles where there’s definitely a drive to look good, people do seem to care and outside running. If a lot of people around you are doing it, then you’re probably more likely to do it yourself according to this research. I think the same thing probably goes for going for a run and [00:18:00] being physically active and riding your bike to work and all that. If other people are doing it, not only is it reminding you that you can, but it also might put a little pressure on you that you should.

Mike Stanton: Yeah, absolutely. Also, I know, Dan, from what we’ve talked about a little bit with your interest in Fitbits and other accelerometry devices that some of those do have social networks as well. Utilizing those social networks can be also a powerful way to contribute to your healthy eating and exercise plan.

Dan Pardi: Yeah, not to be too promotional about Human OS, but I have thought about this idea [00:18:30] before. One, we’re creating a bunch of healthy recipes with a bunch of brilliant chefs that align with different dietary styles and every day we’re going to be emailing our members who opt into that one of the recipes the day. The value of that goes beyond whether or not you make it that evening, but if you’re seeing an image reminding you of what you have declared that you want to do, it can perhaps help guide and affect your eating choices for the rest the day even if you don’t make that meal. It kind of primes for making better food choices. [00:19:00] When you say, “Yes, I purchased this and I want to eat in this manner,” and I think that that can be really powerful.

Emma Templeton: Yeah.

Mike Stanton: Absolutely.

Dan Pardi: Emma, you measured preferences in response to social norms, but did you also measure eating behaviors?

Emma Templeton: Yeah, that’s a great question. In this study we elected to measure eating behavior in the simplest way we could imagine that’s been done before. To lay this out, I’ll just overview the structure of the entire study really quickly. Participants came into the lab, they were assigned randomly to one of their conditions, a healthy norm and [00:19:30] unhealthy norm, or I no norm control group. Then. they rated their food preferences and immediately saw feedback based on their norm rule. 10 minutes later, they rerated those preferences without any norm feedback. Again, this is testing the effect of the norm on their preference ratings. Then, we excused them for the day, but before we excused them we said, “Hey, there’s a jar of M&Ms on the table. Feel free to take as many as you want.”

Participants believed that the experiment was over and [00:20:00] before they started the task, we weighed the jar and after they left we weighed the jar again to get a measure of how many M&Ms they ended up taking. Then, three days later, as we mentioned, they came back into the lab and once again they rated all of the images a third time without any feedback. Our measure of eating behavior was how many M&Ms participants took. I should underline that this is not the only way that people can measure eating behavior. In fact, we didn’t find any differences between conditions in how many M&Ms people [00:20:30] took.

We analyzed this in a bunch of ways, but we found no evidence that or norm intervention changed the amount of M&Ms that they took. Of course we could have used something that wasn’t M&Ms, we could’ve used an array of different food choices. We could have followed them for a week afterwords. There are many ways that interventions or norms can change behavior. It might not be immediately, it might not be for specific items, but we only measured it in this one way. In this one way we didn’t find evidence that the norm had changed their behavior.

Dan Pardi: [00:21:00] Eating behaviors are so complex. Just because you didn’t show anything in this paradigm, didn’t mean an effect wasn’t there. People in this group might not like M&Ms, but maybe they would’ve grabbed a handful of marshmallows so it’s hard to be certain.

Emma Templeton: Yeah, and I do want to say, it could be the case that this intervention just doesn’t influence eating behavior. There’s no way to know if we just didn’t measure it effectively or if it just really wouldn’t have an impact. For interested in this type of intervention specifically, what we would need to do is measure many different types [00:21:30] of eating behavior over a longer time scale, but I think a better approach after thinking through the results of this, we have lots of nice evidence from many other labs that social norms in the lab really do affect eating behavior in the lab and we have evidence from across all of psychology that social norms really do change our behavior. It’s important to remember that when we’re out in the world walking around, we’re being influenced and exposed to social norms all the time [00:22:00] and the norms that we’re exposed to outside of the lab are really salient and really important.

I might come into the lab and learn that fellow Stanford students prefer broccoli two points higher than me, but once I walk outside and I go to lunch with my group of friends, what they order, I’m going to respond to that more than I’m going to respond to a task that I just did in the lab. I think a really nice way to move forward is to figure out how these existing norms that we’re all exposed to when we’re walking around, [00:22:30] how we can manipulate those or get participants or people people to put themselves in situations where the norms are healthier to begin with and just take advantage of social norms to change our behavior.

Mike Stanton: That sort of brings back to what I was saying earlier, that it’s important if you’re thinking about changing your eating behavior, then to surround yourself with healthy people, to get your spouse in on it, to have friends tell people that you’re trying to change. That’s actually true for cigarette smoking behavior as well. We do that for exercise behavior. [00:23:00] Any kind of health behavior, you really want to be intentional about how you create a positive social atmosphere so that your health behavior will change.

Dan Pardi: I can’t help but think of the concept of psychological reactance which is a person’s reaction to what they perceive as an encroachment upon their beliefs or something to be coercive. A crude example might be a person reacting to their company trying to promote healthy eating by eating more poorly almost as a statement in effective of, “Don’t tell me what to do.” Did you see a subset of your population that was driven in the opposite direction as [00:23:30] the social norm?

Emma Templeton: Yeah, I get this question a lot and in fact, when I was first exposed to this research that was my question as well. You can imagine people who are just anti-conformist and don’t want to go with the group and you can imagine a similar situation in this paradigm. I love pizza, for example, and if I learned that my peer group hates pizza, that’s not going to change my preference for pizza because I feel so strongly about it. I maybe have less strong preferences for spinach so I might be able to move those preferences [00:24:00] around more. We tried to do some analysis that take into account people’s initial preferences for these items. How strongly they felt about those items in a positive or negative way and looked to see if we got more or less movement for those items.

We didn’t find any evidence of this, but one reason might be that is participants picked up this norm rule very quickly and they adjusted their preferences kind of on the fly. They started changing their preferences to be more healthy if they were in the healthy norm condition or [00:24:30] less healthy if they were in unhealthy norm condition very fast which just goes to show the power that social norms have to influence our behavior. In this study, we don’t have any evidence of reactance or for strong opinions being harder to change than weak opinions, but it could be because we don’t have a pure measure of people’s initial opinions because they were being updated so quickly.

Dan Pardi: Another thought is that this effect is probably influenced by extremeness of the social norm also. If you see people being healthy, that pulls [00:25:00] you towards that direction, but if you see people taking that health behavior to an extreme degree, like in communities that demonstrate orthorexia or being healthy to an unhealthy degree, that may subconsciously turn you off from eating well due to discussed from the association. I wouldn’t be surprised if this effect was influenced by these factors also.

Mike Stanton: Absolutely, and the last one to incredibly important from behavior change theory, we know that the more alike you are to the social group that’s influencing you, then the more likely that’s going [00:25:30] to have an effect on your behavior.

Dan Pardi: Tighten it up.

Mike Stanton: Yeah, because you see yourself as similar to those others in your social group and if you see them do something, then the more likely to change, to conform.

Emma Templeton: Exactly. It could be the case given that these were all Stanford students. Stanford and Berkeley students have a big rivalry. If we were giving people feedback based on Berkeley students, you might be more likely to see this reactance for exactly the reason that mike was saying that who the group is matters a lot. If you dislike them then you’re not going to want go with them.

Dan Pardi: [00:26:00] Or go further.

Emma Templeton: Sure.

Mike Stanton: Right.

Dan Pardi: Both of those, either be better or do the opposite. Emma, what are you going to look at since you’re not going to be following up specifically on this study or what sort of research you’re going to be taking part in next?

Emma Templeton: I’m taking a big turn from this stuff. I’m actually in a lab that studies social intelligence and I’m very interested in social connection. Specifically, what makes a conversation good, how to predict friendship and affiliation between two people, and kind of breaking down features of interaction [00:26:30] that predicts different the levels of connection between people.

Dan Pardi: Oh my gosh. Okay, so there’s a group of people that I’ve met and that I feel great kinship with in San Francisco and one guy, Tim Chang, and I have been throwing some salon dinners where we get people together and we talk about a specific topic that is the topic of conversation for that night. Sometimes there are actual experts on that subject, but everybody there usually is interested in it and one of the subjects that we talked about was friendship and had an incredible conversation about it and the next two days [00:27:00] I could do nothing but write down my thoughts. It’s one of these topics that affects absolutely every single one of us, but I’d never thought about it, the subject, in depth and I ended up writing a fairly long article about it.

Probably 4,000 words, on the subject of friendship and I just had all these ideas flow out of me. I’ll send it to you and I’ll actually post it in the show notes of this talk as well, but I’d love to follow up with you in the future and hear more about that because it’s a great subject. The one other thing I was going to mention too was, earlier in my career I did work with Dr. Dean Ornish and we brought in 180 cancer patients to test [00:27:30] this multifactorial lifestyle intervention to see if it could affect the progression of prostate cancer.

It was not always traditional interventions so of course diet, exercise was a key part of it, but there was also interpersonal communication with your spouse with the recognition that a lot of men, they lose friendships over the course of their life and a lot of their friendships are tied with their work and when they quit their job they also find themselves in isolation and if they don’t have good communication abilities with their spouse then they often times feel very isolated. We would work with them on how to communicate effectively [00:28:00] and break some old bad habits if they were there and I thought that was actually some of the most interesting parts of the work we were doing.

Emma Templeton: Yeah, definitely. Social bonds, it all hugely intertwines with health and wellness.

Dan Pardi: Yeah.

Emma Templeton: Absolutely. Again, I saw that a lot in the hospital as well. That was probably the biggest issue we dealt with was the social interpersonal relationships and how that affected eating and healthy behaviors.

Dan Pardi: Yeah, and just the psychological stress if one doesn’t feel like to have an outlet or a companion or compatriot that supports you or you don’t like you can express yourself somehow [00:28:30] and how that can just lead to psychological stress which can lead to physiological stress that is pathological in a lot of ways. Lots of interesting things there. Then, Mike, how about you? What are you focusing on with your research and with all that you do?

Mike Stanton: Like I mentioned, I’m a new professor here Cal State East Bay and we’re collaborating with the same lab that I was working with at Stanford. We just finished our collection of a 600 person study where we randomized people to low-carb or low-fat diets, but both of them were healthy versions of that and [00:29:00] now this is five years later, we’ve collected all this data, we have blood, we have metabolites, we have genetics, we have psych measures, sleep, we have energy expenditure. All this stuff so now it’s time to mine this data so that’s my next step.

Dan Pardi: Wow, that’s a multiyear project probably.

Mike Stanton: Yep. A good problem to have.

Dan Pardi: Absolutely. Congratulations on finishing a study the size that most people will not ever take part in and I can’t wait to read the results. I think that’s a really valuable [00:29:30] study to be done, clearly. Thank you guys for joining. This is a very interesting topic, a really well conducted study and you guys explained it well so thank you for joining humanOS Radio and look forward to having you guys both on again in the future to talk about the great work you do.

Emma Templeton: Sounds good.

Mike Stanton: Thanks a lot Dan.

Dan Pardi: Have a good one.

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