Thursday, May 26, 2011

Editor's Selections: Language, Corruption, Picky Eaters, and Magic

This week in the social sciences on
  • Ingrid Pillar of Language on the Move discusses how English can be both empowering and limiting through the experiences of Australian immigrants.
  • With great power comes great responsibility—and temptation. Michael Kraus of Psych Your Mind delves into the relationship between power and corruption.
  • The author of This Is Serious Monkey Business reports that orangutans are not picky eaters. Why is this important? Well, it could help preservation efforts as these primates lose their natural habitat and find themselves in captive/semi-captive environments.
  • Franco Bejarano of Culture Potion explores the use of magical clothing in folklore, tracing similarities in stories through different geographic locations.
I'll be back next week with more from the social sciences.


  1. I note something in the "picky eater" article:

    "One day, after eating some new type of cereal, my mouth had an inky taste and upon looking in a mirror, my mouth was filled with blue ink. I had unintentionally consumed the toy, but from then on, exceptionally crunchy foods became linked in my head with ink and a blue mouth."

    I've noticed this behavior among picky eaters - a single bad experience seems to get LINKED to a particular food or venue. For example, my girlfriend had her gall bladder removed - something which makes fatty foods inadvisable until the body adjusts. Two weeks later, we met a group of friends at a particular Mexican restaurant; afterward she was somewhat ill. Since then, even knowing that the reason she was ill has long past, she links that restaurant with illness and refuses to go there even though they serve many of her favorite foods.

    I, on the other hand, am not a very picky eater. I often end up eating the same thing several times until I connect illness or a bad taste with a particular food product.

    I've been told (though cannot cite sources) that our brains form permanent associations between particular stimuli and emotional or mental states - e.g., there's no particular reason hot cocoa should be any more comforting than hot tea, but to most Americans it is due to that association.

    I wonder if picky eaters are faster or more likely to form those links? And if so, does that correlate to differences in how picky versus non-picky eaters form conclusions or learn new information?

  2. It seems to be a matter of self-preservation. Forming powerful associations with food that may have made us feel unwell prevents us from eating bad things. But I wonder how much of an impact one bad experience can have on creating a picky eater. I never regarded myself as such until S came along. He will try just about anything without hesitation—however, I have definite boundaries about smell, texture, etc. From my childhood, one bad incident stands out above all: Coleslaw. We were at a weekend BBQ and someone served me coleslaw. It was liquidy and soggy and just awful, but I didn't know any differently because it was my first time eating coleslaw. And boy did it make me sick. I wonder how much this event colored my approach to food. And how much of my pickiness was learned. My mom also had definite ideas about what was good to eat and what wasn't—though I didn't always agree with her assessments either.

    (BTW, I've since moved on and can enjoy—good—coleslaw.)

  3. I think there's a significant value to both picky and non-picky strategies - the picky eater is less likely to be poisoned, whereas the non-picky eater is more likely to gain access to diverse calorie sources. Of course, that's assuming that's what being a "picky eater" means.
    Like you, I do have my limits on smell, texture, and so forth. there are things I don't have to try to know they will disgust me.

    The difference seems to be in how quickly an association between $food and $experience is formed, and how broad that association is. My girlfriend has been known to write off entire ethnicities of cuisine, whereas I will - only reluctantly - admit that this or that restaurant is bad.
    Ironically, while she CAN go to the Mexican restaurant I mentioned above, but won't, I have found that because they use lard in their cooking (which causes significant illness for me) I cannot go.