Eating food with your hands makes it taste better, a study shows – but beware, it also makes you eat more.
Being able to physically touch the food enhances the brain’s sensory perceptions, scientists said.
This means that even before food reaches the mouth, touching it makes the brain think it is tastier and more satisfying than it would be if using cutlery.
But researchers found that the effects were only present in people who typically restrict their diet.
People who tend to eat what they want did not find food tastier if they held it first.
Stevens University in New York, asked 45 volunteers to look at a cube of Muenster cheese before holding it and then eating it.
Half of the participants held the food on a cocktail stick, while the other half held it with their fingers.
Participants who said they normally have a high level of self-control over what they eat thought the cheese was tastier if they held it.
The findings were not seen in those who reported a low level of control when eating, even when they held the cheese with their fingers.
In a second experiment, 145 undergraduate students were separated into two groups.
The first group was told to imagine they had to be more careful with their diet and cut back on eating too much so they could achieve their aims of being fit and healthy.
The other group was told to worry less about their weight and to allow themselves to indulge in tasty food to enjoy life more.
Everyone was then given a cup with four mini donuts in, but half were given cocktail sticks and half were not.
As in the first experiment, the participants were then asked to look at the food and evaluate its qualities.
The group who had been primed to have more self-control sampled the food more positively when they touched it with their hands.
In a third study, 77 people were given a container with 15 cubes of cheese inside. While filling out a form, they were left to eat as much cheese as they wanted.
Those with the highest self-control who were allowed to eat the cheese with their hand consumed more than those who ate with a fork – seven cubes compared to four.
And people who had the least self-control ate around six cubes if they were using a fork, compared with four if they used their hands.
Lead researcher Professor Adriana Madzharov said: ‘It’s an interesting effect. It’s such a small tweak but it can change how people evaluate your product.
‘The two groups do not appear to process sensory information in the same way.
‘For people who regularly control their food consumption, direct touch triggers an enhanced sensory response, making food more desirable and appealing.’
The findings were published in the Journal of Retailing.
Previous research looking at why people overeat has found those who overindulge in junk food may have lapses in the part of the brain responsible for self-control.
Canadian researchers found that a dampening of the part of the brain involved in willpower, known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, led to people reporting more cravings for high-calorie foods.
They were also more likely to eat junk food during a taste test.