Why Do Some People Enjoy Watching Other People Eat?
New studies shed light on the controversial trend of watching Mukbang videos.
Posted October 23, 2022 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- Mukbang videos show a person eating large quantities of food, often in a short amount of time.
- Research shows that Mukbang videos can have positive and negative effects on viewers.
- People with problematic Mukbang watching are often lonely.
What are Mukbang videos?
There have been quite a few controversial internet video trends over the years. Psychological research can help us understand why some people enjoy watching things that others may find anything from gross to infuriating or simply boring (read my recent post on “pimple popping” videos here).
A recent trend that has taken the internet by storm are so-called “Mukbang” videos. The term Mukbang originates from South Korea and roughly translates to “eating show” or “eating broadcast”. In a typical Mukbang video, the host will eat large quantities of food while commenting on the experience and the taste of the food. Sometimes these videos can be educational (e.g., the host educates the viewers about some local delicacies from their country), and sometimes it is more about whether the food is tasty or not. Searching for the term "Mukbang" on YouTube will give more than 100,000 videos of people eating large quantities of different kinds of food, with some having more than 500 million views! Despite their huge success, Mukbang videos have also been criticized, for example for promoting unhealthy eating behaviors or food waste.
Mukbang videos can be both helpful and hurtful
So, what did scientific studies reveal about the psychology of watching Mukbang videos? One recent study published in the scientific journal Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry (Strand and Gustafsson, 2020) revealed that Mukbang videos can have both helpful and hurtful psychological consequences for viewers.
The scientists performed a qualitative analysis of YouTube comments and Reddit posts about watching Mukbang videos. For some people who commented on Mukbang videos, the videos had a positive impact and were helpful for preventing binge eating and also reduced feelings of loneliness. Eating together is often a communal experience and if someone feels lonely because they have to eat alone, watching a Mukbang video may give them a sense of community at the table that they would miss otherwise. For other viewers, however, watching Mukbang videos could also have negative effects. For example, it may motivate restrictive eating to watch someone eat so much or trigger a relapse into overeating, following the example of the host of the Mukbang video.
Mukbang videos showing unhealthy eating behavior get more views
Another recent study analyzed what determines the success of a Mukbang video (Kang et al., 2020). The scientists found out that videos that showed overeating were watched significantly more often than videos without overeating. Moreover, videos that showed the consumption of a large quantity of food within a time limit were watched more often than videos without a time limit. The strongest effect was observed for eating extremely spicy or irritating food. Here, a fourfold increase in views over videos not showing such content was observed. Thus, taken together, viewers seem to enjoy Mukbang videos that show rather unhealthy eating behavior.
Problematic Mukbang watching is related to loneliness
A third recent study looked a problematic Mukbang watching, for example, if people spend so much time watching Mukbang videos that it starts resembling an addiction (Kircaburun et al., 2021). In this study, the scientists asked 604 Turkish Mukbang fans to fill out a Mukbang addiction scale and several other questionnaires. Two percent of participants indicated that they watched Mukbang videos for four hours or more every day. The scientists found that problematic Mukbang watching was associated with problematic YouTube watching in general and particularly with loneliness. The scientists concluded that excessive watching of Mukbang videos might be a dysfunctional coping mechanism in some people that feel lonely and wish to eat together with others.
Kang E, Lee J, Kim KH, Yun YH. The popularity of eating broadcast: Content analysis of "mukbang" YouTube videos, media coverage, and the health impact of "mukbang" on public. Health Informatics J. 2020 Sep;26(3):2237-2248.
Kircaburun K, Balta S, Emirtekin E, Tosuntas ŞB, Demetrovics Z, Griffiths MD. Compensatory Usage of the Internet: The Case of Mukbang Watching on YouTube. Psychiatry Investig. 2021 Apr;18(4):269-276.
Strand M, Gustafsson SA. Mukbang and Disordered Eating: A Netnographic Analysis of Online Eating Broadcasts. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2020 Dec;44(4):586-609.