Mind Matters: Mukbangs

Some people think that a passing comet signals the end of humanity. Others think the legalisation of same-sex marriage signals the end. I point the finger at the popularity of mukbangs.

The word mukbang is Korean. It means online video of people eating. These videos first became popular in South Korea. Then their popularity spread worldwide. Mukbangs currently attract over 100 million views per month, and the number is growing rapidly. The most popular ones show children eating. These videos do especially well when they show children eating junk food.

OK, so maybe the end of humanity is not nigh. But we have a mystery to solve: why do people want to watch others eat? I am not a good enough psychologist to give a complete answer. But I suspect that some people watch out of amusement, just as they might watch reality TV shows.

Also, viewers enjoy negatively judging parents who broadcast their children eating chicken nuggets and chips. These critics think children are not the proper subject of shows produced to satisfy online peepers. Some lonely individuals may watch the same family or children every day because they like the eaters and feel connected to them.

Some individuals may vicariously enjoy seeing others eat delicious food. Watching is calorie free. I do not know whether individuals who have anorexia view the videos, but I can imagine that happening.

Finally, some people may watch the videos because other individuals they know watch. Peer influence can lead to more than substance abuse. As mukbangs became popular around the world, dieticians started criticising them. The main criticism: The videos promote unhealthful eating.

Scientists have started studying mukbangs. I can imagine the future journal articles: Predictors of Mukbang Dependence; Public Health Effects of Mukbang Viewing.

Some of the folks who broadcast eating videos on YouTube make thousands of dollars a month from ads. So I ask myself this question: Would someone want to watch me eat? I doubt it. I need a mukbang niche to fill. How about a paleo mukbang? A vegan mukbang?

What if I put together a group of appealing individuals and combined mukbangs with pornography? Naw, I am too late with that idea. There is no niche left to fill in the billion-dollar porn business. I will have to eat solely for my own survival and enjoyment. What a waste!

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.