Who could make you eat undercooked chicken or moldy bread? Your future in-laws, research suggests

Within intense social situations, such as that first visit to soon-to-be in-laws, people may feel compelled to eat high-risk foods, like undercooked chicken, in order to make a good impression, researchers in Norway have found.

(CNN)Bloody hamburgers. Pink chicken. Moldy bread.

We all know these foods are risky and could make us sick, but research has suggested that in certain high-stakes social situations — like dinner with your prospective in-laws or a BBQ at your new boss' house — you may eat them anyway.
Researchers in Norway evaluated 17 different social situations to assess how people felt about the consequences of not eating the food we are served and found that being invited to one's future parents-in-laws for the first time was the situation judged to have the biggest pressure to be polite and not refuse food.
    "We might imagine that in this situation the anticipated cost of eating something disliked was weighed against the anticipated cost of being judged impolite, rude, or — in the worst case — as an unsuitable son or daughter-in-law," said Nina Veflen, a professor in the department of marketing at the Norwegian Business School.
      It wasn't just fear of social consequences. Empathy also plays a big role, Veflen said. The situation judged to have the second-highest social pressure was being served a dish by a 13-year-old daughter she had made herself.
        Veflen said she remembered experiencing a similar situation as a child when her much-loved grandmother once served a cake that had some mold on it.
        "She was always very proud of serving food and I think she was a good chef too but as she got older, she once put forward cakes with mold on them. What did I do? I ate it.
          "I didn't want to hurt her. That's the empathy part. I was a bit disgusted and I definitely talked to my mum about it after but more than that I was afraid of hurting her, the person that you love," Veflen said.
          "It's extreme but these mechanisms do count. They matter."
          The research involved a total of 1,900 people in Norway. But Veflen said she thought the findings would apply elsewhere, albeit with some cultural differences around social norms. The study was published in the journal Risk Analysis earlier this year.

          Social decorum

          The researchers asked how willing people were to eat 15 different foods, including fresh bread, well-done hamburgers, moldy bread and undercooked chicken, in different social situations. People were more willing to accept food, including food they thought was unsafe, in a situation deemed to have high social consequences, they found.
          However, it wasn't the only factor at play — more important was the pleasure participants associated with eating the respective food, followed by their perception of how frequently the food was eaten by others.