Why we fight over who makes the best pizza

Issue 28: The link between food and identity; the 'bias blind spot'; partisan misperceptions; and an invitation to our book launch party

In 2013, Jon Stewart, then the host of The Daily Show, set aside the program’s usual focus on politics to talk about something more important: pizza, specifically Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. “Deep-dish pizza is not only not better than New York pizza,” Stewart explained. “It’s not pizza.”

Then, after several more minutes railing against the dish, he concluded, “Here’s how I know I’m right: You call it ‘Chicago-style pizza,’ ‘deep-dish pizza,’ ‘stuffed pizza.’” The New York City–born comedian pulled a thin slice of pizza from under his desk. “You know what we call this? Pizza.”

The perennial debate about who has the best pizza has raged for years. It was triggered again in 2021 when the City of Chicago announced on Twitter that it was “Proud to be the pizza capital of the world”.

A spirited debate ensued with outraged responses from Naples to New York. Echoing Jon Stewart, one of the snarkiest replies called deep-dish pizza a casserole!

Taste is an interesting thing. We might like to think that our own tastes are uniquely ours, and that they are somehow more “correct” than others’. When it comes to the “right” way to prepare our favorite dishes, people revel in what distinguishes us from the next town over, no matter how slight the differences might seem from a distance. Beyond pizza, Americans are happy to praise local styles of barbecue, hot dogs, chili, or cheesesteak. These differences are often attributed to regional pride, but the reality is more complicated, and they are deeply informed by our relationships with others.

That there is a link between the foods people eat and their identities is hardly a novel idea, and many people define themselves in terms of the sustenance they prefer: vegans, paleos, “meat lovers.” But the ways we seek nourishment not only say something about who we are as people, they also reveal how our identities work.

As social psychologists, we know that people possess a variety of identity-related motives. They are attracted to high-status groups. They want to belong and fit in. And, paradoxically, they also want to be distinct (hence the endless arguments about pizza preferences). As the status-conferring properties of different foods change with time, for instance, so do people’s culinary preferences.

This is an excerpt from a recent column we wrote for New York Magazine’s Grub Street about intriguing relationships between food & identity. You can read the rest by following the link. (If you’re as interested in food as we are, you can also check out a previous post we wrote on this most delicious of topics.)


Research round up

Understanding where biases come from is challenging when people are unwilling or unable to see bias in themselves. Recent research found that only one out of 661 adults believed that they were more biased than the average person. The “Bias Blind Spot” means that while almost everyone can see bias in others, they don’t see it in themselves.

Andrea Pereira, Elizabeth Harris and Jay have a new paper just out finding that both Democrats and Republicans are more likely to believe news—including fake news—that makes their in-group look good and the out-group look bad.

Victoria Parker and colleagues have a new paper reporting that while people are fairly accurate at estimating their political opponents’ moderate views, they tend to vastly over-estimate the prevalence of extreme opinions on the other side. People reported disliking and wanting to avoid out-group members for views that most did not actually hold!

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News & events

We had some good book news last week as The Power of Us hit #1 on Amazon for new books in Cognitive Neuroscience. (It also joined the Top 10 new books in Leadership & Motivation, as well as Popular Psychology)!

We’d like to send a huge THANKS to everyone who bought a copy or helped us along the way, either by sharing news, offering us comments on our research, rating the book online, or inviting us to talk about it. We are eternally grateful for your support and plan to pay it forward to other new authors.

If you happen to be in the New York City area next Tuesday (Oct 12), you are invited to help us celebrate at a book launch party at the Book Club Bar! Bring your partner, a friend, or even a foe! Everyone is welcome and the party will be from 7-10pm.

If you’re planning on attending, please do RSVP here to make sure we have room.

If you cannot make it to the event, check out this interview Jay recently gave with Katy Milkman as part of the Behavior Change for Good initiative at the University of Pennsylvania. The full interview is free online.

Our book was recently cited by Vox to help make sense of why people are avoiding COVID-19 vaccination in favor of less effective alternatives (like Invermectin).


In case you missed it, check out last week’s newsletter…

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