Creature Comforts: TMSIDK Episode 25

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Subjects in Traci Mann’s experiment chose things like mac and cheese, brownies, cookies, and cake as their comfort foods. (Photo: Tavallai/Flickr)

Why do people eat comfort food? To make ourselves feel better, of course. So when NASA was looking for ways to reduce the stress of space flight for the astronauts (and for ways to get them to eat more), they turned to an expert on comfort foods. Traci Mann (of the University of Minnesota’s Mann Lab) and her team tested the effectiveness of comfort foods on earth.

The researchers showed their subjects clips from movies like The Hurt Locker and My Girl to induce negative moods. They then gave the subjects either their self-reported comfort food or gave them a food that they liked, but that wasn’t their comfort food. In other experiments, they gave some subjects granola bars, or no food at all. They compared each person’s mood after eating (or not eating, for the control group).

What they found: comfort food doesn’t provide any more comfort than other foods, granola bars, or even no food at all. Everybody’s mood improved the same amount.

Put down the brownie batter and relax with a Tell Me Something I Don’t Know episode filled with facts on quiet rooms, pillows, comfort food, and …Spam?

Krista Tippett (host of On Being) is our special guest co-host, with Maggie Ryan Sandford (science writer, researcher and producer) as real-time fact-checker.