Psychological Consequences of Meal Situations

We explore psychological consequences of meal situations in three lines of research.

2013 to 2017 / Project Head: Prof. Dr. Birgit Stürmer

Project description

With two studies of the current project we compared cognitive and emotional effects of a restaurant meal eaten in company to a solitary meal in a plain office using pre- and post-test analysis and controlling for the kind and amount of food consumed. Three tasks were conducted, measuring: (1) semantic memory (2) cognitive control and error monitoring, and (3) processing of emotional facial expressions. Covert processes in these tasks were assessed with event-related brain potentials. The mood rating questionnaire of the first study indicated a relaxation effect of the restaurant as compared to the plain meal situation. The restaurant meal increased sensitivity to threatening facial expressions and diminished cognitive control and error monitoring. No effects were observed for semantic memory. Findings of the second study indicated reduced control in a task provoking cognitive conflicts after the restaurant meal.

Taken together, these studies provide first experimental evidence that a restaurant meal with a social component is more relaxing than a meal eaten alone in a plain setting and reduces cognitive control. In a second line of research we investigate the effects meal complexity on satiation and cognitive-affective processing. To this end we manipulated the arrangement of the meal on the plate. Same ingredients were either served as a soup or in complex arrangement of single ingredients.

Thirdly, in cooperation with the Mugaritz – a top gastronomy restaurant in the Basque region – we explore the influence of the actual experience during the meal on long-term memory. Here, we measure the experience and evaluation of each course directly after consumption and will analyse the influence of the actual experience on long-term memory of the different courses in a three-months post-test.


  • Sommer W, Stürmer B, Shmuilovich O, Martin-Loeches M, Schacht A (2013) How about Lunch? Consequences of the Meal Context on Cognition and Emotion. PLoS ONE 8(7): e70314. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070314

Research Team

Prof. Dr. Werner Sommer (head of project)
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
E-Mail: werner.sommer(at)

Prof. Dr. Birgit Stürmer (project coordination at the IPU)
IPU Berlin
E-Mail: birgit.stuermer(at)

Prof. Dr. Annekathrin Schacht
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
E-Mail: aschach(at)

Prof. Dr. Manuel Martin-Loeches
Universidad Complutense Madrid
E-Mail: mmartinloeches(at)