October 2011/Prepared Foods -- Researchers have found there is more to the habit of eating so-called junk food than taste. A University of Southern California study finds people develop certain eating habits which associate a place with a certain type of food, such as popcorn at movie theaters.

People entering a movie theater were given a bucket of freshly popped popcorn or stale, week-old popcorn. The findings, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, showed moviegoers who did not usually eat popcorn at the movies ate much less of the stale popcorn than the fresh, simply because it did not taste as good. However, of most interest, those who typically ate popcorn at the movies consumed roughly the same amount of popcorn--whether it was fresh or stale.

Popcorn

“When we’ve repeatedly eaten a particular food in a particular environment, our brain comes to associate the food with that environment and makes us keep eating, as long as those environmental cues are present,” concludes David Neal, who led the study.