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Why You Can’t Stop Eating Stale Popcorn at the Movies

That sick, heavy, queasy feeling you get when you leave the movie theater may not have come from, say, realizing you paid good money to watch ‘Conan the Barbarian’ in 3D. It may come from having mindlessly shoveled handful after handful of stale popcorn into your mouth.

A new study conducted by scholars at the University of Southern California and published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that moviegoers can’t help themselves. If you make a habit of eating popcorn at the movies, you’ll keep eating and eating it throughout the picture, regardless of whether or not the popcorn is fresh or even tasty.

In the study, researchers gave movie patrons a bucket of popcorn just before a screening. Some contained fresh popcorn, some contained week-old popcorn. The study found that people who habitually ate popcorn consumed the same amount of popcorn whether fresh or stale, while those who didn’t were much less likely to eat the stale kernels. It didn’t matter whether or not the moviegoers were hungry before the film.

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