Friday, December 5, 2008
food, choice, and the brain
I just discovered WNYC's Radiolab, which I can't believe I've never heard before. It is now tied for my favorite podcast with the BBC World Have Your Say, which I adore also. Podcasts: little joys of the world.
So the episode I caught was about choice, and how our brain manages to give us enough information to let us get through every day -- especially the cereal aisle. My friends know that choice is an especially sore spot with me. The whole episode is fascinating and provides enough interesting thought points for the next five or so dinner parties you might attend.
All of it is interesting, but the part I really love discusses the work of Baba Shiv, a professor at the Stanford School of Business (natch), who gave participants in a study either 2 or 7 digits to memorize. They were then instructed to walk down the hall, but were stopped before they got to the supposed second part of the experiment by someone offering them compensation for their participation -- either a slice of cake or a bowl of fruit. So, turned out that, consistently, the people with seven digits in their head took the cake. Those with two took the fruit. The reason, Shiv thinks, is that with the reasoning side of the brain occupied, people chose what looked tastiest to the emotional brain. Those with some extra space in their rational brains used it to make the healthier decision.
So now I know why I gain anywhere from 2-5 pounds during finals.