Late Night Junk Food Unites Humanity Despite Cultural Differences, Says Study


Dr. Katie Spalding

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer

The world can be a scary place. There's the existential threat of pollution, the upcoming robot nuclear armageddon, and the semi-regular reminders that all our technology is infested with demons. But – as any successful film franchise can tell you – the human spirit is a powerful thing, and a new study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science has found something that unites us like nothing else can: pizza.

Yes, it turns out junk food has the power to transcend minor things like cultural or geographic boundaries, instead transporting us back to simpler times when we spent our days hunting, foraging, and dying in childbirth before we made it to adulthood. Natural selection, says the study, is responsible for people across the globe coming together at 2am and typing "takeout near me" into an online search engine.


The researchers, both from the University of Aberdeen, analyzed five years' worth of Google Trends data from the USA, UK, Canada, India, and Australia, searching for terms like "pizza delivery" and "Chinese delivery", as well as country-specific terms like "Food Panda" or "Just Eat". Amazingly, people throughout these obviously diverse populations proved to be remarkably consistent in their behavior, ordering food at the same times and in the same patterns across the world.

It seems whether they're in Mumbai or Montréal, people are driven to search for food at 7pm and 2am. That's true every day, everywhere, for every food, according to the study. Perhaps less surprising is the revelation that our tendency to order in goes up as the week drags on, with people about twice as likely to get takeout at the end of the week than at the beginning.

"[This behavior] was observed in all countries studied and given the similar pattern between India and the other countries, we propose the patterns are not culturally dependent and instead are biologically motivated," notes the study, which labels our midnight cravings a "modern appetitive foraging behavior." Although the researchers don't know the reason for the two distinct peaks in the data, they say it's probably too simplistic to put it down to "lark" and "owl" chronotypes, suggesting it could be something to do with "age or lifestyle populations" – in other words, they're blaming students.

"Successful foraging behaviour has been favoured by natural selection," explains the study. "Across the animal kingdom, predator-prey interactions have resulted in several decisions that attempt to optimize the energetic gain per unit of time... we propose that information seeking behaviour for food-associated search terms via Internet is a novel, human-specific appetitive behaviour that reflects food-related motivation."


So there you have it. If our Neanderthal cousins had the Internet, they'd probably be ditching the paleo diet for a midnight curry as well.

History has never been so relatable.


  • tag
  • food,

  • hunger,

  • takeout