The craving to order a pizza or any other kind of popular takeaway meal is at its peak at 7pm and 2am around the world, according to new research based on a global study of internet traffic.
Academics from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland examined patterns of food searches online across India, UK, US, Canada and Australia and discovered “double-peaks, occurring every day at 19.00 and 02.00”.
The research, published in the Royal Society journal 'Open Science', looks at how ancient human patterns of hunger and foraging have moved into the internet era, using Google searches for take-away curries, Chinese meals and pizzas. The study, by Nicolas Scrutton Alvarado and Tyler Stevenson, indicates a new so-called hunting and Googling trend among humans.
“Overall, we present novel human appetitive behaviour for information seeking of food resources and propose that internet-based search patterns reflect a biological rhythm of motivation for energy balance,” the researchers said.
“We propose that the major factor that contributes to the bimodal evening peak is age-dependent (e.g. adolescent, early adulthood versus midlife and mature adulthood) and a minor role for human chronotypes (e.g. late versus early),” they note.
The biologists downloaded five years' worth of data on general takeaway-related searches, such as pizza delivery or Chinese delivery, as well as more specific fast food delivery companies, such as
and Zomato in India, Just Eat in the UK, and Panda Express in the US and Canada. Besides some limited phase peaks around festivals like Diwali or Christmas, there was a general consistent rhythm of people wanting to find food online at about 7pm.
The findings show a new way of studying "foraging behaviour" in humans and understanding human motivations about seeking food.
“All organisms have strategies to locate and consume nutrients and food necessary for survival," said Dr Stevenson.
The results indicate that the two evening peaks could be the result of biology. The 2am takeaway craving may either reflect a host of hungry students, or more probably people who tend to be night owls and stay up late.
The appearance of daily rhythms across diverse cultures and countries supports the probability for an underlying biological driver for information seeking behaviour (ISB) rhythmicity. This is emphasised by the consistent ISB daily rhythms that exhibit a double evening spike in India. There are slight differences between India and the other countries, such as a higher level of midday ISB and lower evening′ ISB.
Therefore, daily rhythms in food-related ISB cannot solely be accounted for by Western cultures. ISB patterns that would support a culturally driven behaviour would include phase peaks during major annual festivals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Diwali. The absence of ISB during cultural events distinct from other times of the year, or between countries supports the notion for a biological basis of this appetitive behaviour.
A large number of diverse cultures would aid the conjecture that appetitive ISB is a common feature of human behaviour. Based on the massive dataset contained within Google Trends, the researchers speculate that the expansion of internet access into other countries and cultures will continue to reflect the varying ISB rhythms.
In summary, the results show that appetitive ISB for food-related terms exhibit robust daily oscillations. The daily waveform was consistent across days of the week, cultures and did not vary with seasons. The researchers proposed that an underlying biological mechanism drives ISB patterns in human appetitive behaviours as analysed from a massive big-data source, Google Trends.
Appetitive ISB for food-related search terms is probably an output of multiple interconnected neural structures that includes circadian properties and is entrained by hormone signalling. The methods described provide a novel means to examine biological rhythms in human appetitive behaviours and the opportunity to expand the capability to examine a wide range of human motivations.
There has been an exponential growth of information seeking behaviour (ISB) via internet-based programs over the past decade. The availability of software that record ISB temporal patterns has provided a valuable opportunity to examine biological rhythms in human behaviour. Internet search repositories, such as Google Trends, permit the analyses of large datasets that can be used to track ISB on a domestic and international scale. The researchers chose to examine daily and seasonal Google Trends search patterns for keywords related to food intake, using the most relevant search terms for the US, UK, Canada, India and Australia.
Overall, the findings unveil novel human appetitive behaviour across the globe and propose that internet-based search patterns reflect a biological rhythm of motivation for energy balance that unites the globe.