Here’s Why You Can’t Control Yourself Around Free Office Food

Long ago, a colleague and I coined the term “snulture.” A snulture is a snack vulture, an office character who is predictably the first to sniff out free food.

The snulture isn’t so much an individual person, but rather a role that we all adopt from time to time. One particularly egregious office food mooch may come to mind when you think of a snulture, but you’ve probably also been guilty of possessing snulture qualities. There’s just something about free food, right?

When an office-wide email alerts everyone to free pizza in the break room, crowds of co-workers you’ve never even seen before materialize.

“If your office charged five dollars a plate, you wouldn’t get that same frenzy,” said Dr. Steve Terracciano, a board-certified cognitive and behavioral psychologist. “I just think that our culture places such a premium on getting something for nothing.”

There’s a lot going on in a person’s decision to run-walk to collect free goodies. Some of the behavior is instinctive, according to Terracciano, stemming from our caveman days when, if we didn’t eat that wildebeest now, we might go hungry for a while.

“It’s reminiscent of survival kicking in,” he said. “Food can bring out something primal in people.”

But some of the behavior is also learned, rather than an innate holdover from the hunter-gatherer life. Take, for example, the piñata parties common for childhood birthday celebrations, where kids are encouraged to fend for themselves, scrambling to hoard as much candy as possible. Or the sugar-fueled candy grab that is Halloween. “Part of all of this is how you’ve learned to participate with groups of people,” Terracciano said.

In the case of head-butting for the last fallen Tootsie Roll, there’s a reinforcement principle operating. People are guided, —> Read More