People Around the World Order Takeout at the Same Time, Study Finds

© MBI / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alice Johnston
Food Editor14 August 2018

Researchers in Scotland have discovered the most common time for ordering a takeaway is the same around the globe, and they believe the behaviour is an evolving form of foraging.

Close up hand holds slice of pizza | © Natalia Oskanova / Alamy Stock Photo

If you often find yourself craving a hot, cheesy slice late at night, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.

Whether you’re in the UK, the US, Australia, Canada or India, the times when you’re most likely to be searching online for takeout are 7pm and 2am.

Nicolas Scrutton Alvarado and Tyler J Stevenson of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland examined global Google search entries from two week-long periods in September 2016 and March 2017, looking for commonalities.

Published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, their study concludes that this searching for food at similar times may be an updated version of behaviour exhibited by our early ancestors. They call it “modern foraging” and believe it stems from biological rhythms common to all of humanity.

Close up young woman taking bite from slice of delicious pizza | © Natalia Oskanova / Alamy Stock Photo

The study also explores how primal human patterns of foraging and hunger have transplanted into and adapted to the online era.

“Successful foraging behaviour has been favoured by natural selection, which shaped innate, species-specific decision rules that maximise energy gain,” Alvarado and Stevenson write.

“Across the animal kingdom, predator-prey interactions have resulted in several decisions that attempt to optimise the energetic gain per unit of time.

“Here, we propose that information seeking behaviour (ISB) for food-associated search terms via Internet is a novel, human-specific appetitive behaviour that reflects food-related motivation.”

Despite cultural differences, the 7pm and 2am spikes in search volume were remarkably consistent and not markedly affected by religious observances and national holidays.

It’s thought the two search times could be linked to natural circadian rhythms and correlated to early and late risers.

“It is likely that two different human populations are responsible for the daily ‘early’ and ‘late’ evening ISB peaks,” they write.

“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).”

The researchers caution that eating late at night has been linked to weight gain and obesity, so the 2am peak could be cause for concern.

Rather than hunting and gathering, it seems humanity is now hunting and Googling.

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