Social modeling of eating mediated by mirror neuron activity: A causal model moderated by frontal asymmetry and BMI

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Abstract

The social modeling of eating effect refers to the consistently demonstrated phenomenon that individuals tend to match their quantity of food intake to their eating companion. The current study sought to explore whether activity within the mirror neuron system (MNS) mediates the social modeling of eating effect as a function of EEG frontal asymmetry and body mass index (BMI). Under the guise of rating empathy, 93 female undergraduates viewed a female video confederate “incidentally” consume either a low or high intake of chips while electroencephalogram (EEG) activity was recorded. Subsequent ad libitum chip consumption was quantified. A first- and second-stage dual moderation model revealed that frontal asymmetry and BMI moderated an indirect effect of model consumption on participants' food consumption as mediated by MNS activity at electrode site C3, a3b3= −0.718, SE = 0.365, 95% CI [−1.632, −0.161]. Left frontal asymmetry was associated with greater mu activity and a positive association between model and participant chip consumption, while right frontal asymmetry was associated with less mu activity and a negative association between model and participant consumption. Across all levels of frontal asymmetry, the effect was only significant among those with a BMI at the 50th percentile or lower. Thus, among leaner individuals, the MNS was demonstrated to mediate social modeling of eating, as moderated by frontal asymmetry. These findings are integrated within the normative account of social modeling of eating. It is proposed that the normative framework may benefit from consideration of both conscious and unconscious operation of intake norms.

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