Women who date for a free meal and without romantic interest in their dinner partners are more likely to exhibit dark triad personality traits


When it comes to getting a date, there’s any number of ways people can present themselves and their interests.

One of the newer phenomena is a “foodie call” where a person sets up a date with someone they are not romantically interested in, for the purpose of getting a free meal. New research finds that 23 – 33% of women in an online study say they’ve engaged in a “foodie call.”

Upon further analysis, the social and personality psychology researchers found that women who scored high on the “dark triad” of personality traits (i.e., psychopathy, Machiavellianism, narcissism), as well as expressed traditional gender role beliefs, were most likely to engage in a foodie call and find it acceptable.

The research, by Brian Collisson, Jennifer Howell, and Trista Harig of Azusa Pacific University and UC Merced, appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

In the first study, 820 women were recruited, with 40% reporting they were single, 33% married, and 27% saying they were in a committed relationship but not married. Out of them, 85% said they were heterosexual, and they were the focus of this study.

The women answered a series of questions that measured their personality traits, beliefs about gender roles, and their foodie call history. They were also asked if they thought a foodie call was socially acceptable.

This shows a woman eating pasta

For both groups, those that engaged in foodie calls scored higher in the “dark triad” personality traits. The image in the public domain.

23% of women in this first group revealed they’d engaged in a foodie call. Most did so occasionally or rarely. Although women who had engaged in a foodie call believed it was more acceptable, most women believed foodie calls were extremely to moderately unacceptable.

The second study analyzed a similar set of questions of 357 heterosexual women and found 33% had engaged in a foodie call. It is important to note, however, that neither of these studies recruited representative samples of women, so we cannot know if these percentages are accurate for women in general.

For both groups, those that engaged in foodie calls scored higher in the “dark triad” personality traits.

“Several dark traits have been linked to deceptive and exploitative behavior in romantic relationships, such as one-night stands, faking an orgasm, or sending unsolicited sexual pictures,” says Collisson.

Collisson and Harig said they became interested in the subject of foodie calls after reading about the phenomenon in the news.

As for how many foodies calls might be occurring in the United States, Collisson says that can’t be inferred from the current research.

“They could be more prevalent, for instance, if women lied or misremembered their foodie calls to maintain a positive view of their dating history,” says Collisson.

The researchers also note that foodie calls could occur in many types of relationships, and could be perpetrated by all genders.

Lurking beneath the surface of people who use others to their own advantage is psychology’s “Dark Triad.”

Defined as a set of traits that include the tendency to seek admiration and special treatment (otherwise known as narcissism), to be callous and insensitive (psychopathy) and to manipulate others (Machiavellianism), the Dark Triad is rapidly becoming a new focus of personality psychology.

Researchers are finding that the Dark Triad underlies a host of undesirable behaviors including aggressiveness, sexual opportunism, and impulsivity. 

Until recently, the only way to capture the Dark Triad in the lab was to administer lengthy tests measuring each personality trait separately. 

With the development of the “Dirty Dozen” scale, however, psychologists Peter Jonason and Gregory Webster (2010) are now making it possible to spot these potentially troublesome traits with a simple 12-item rating scale.

The technical definition of the Dark Triad, as stated in Jonason and Webster’s article, is rather daunting: “the Dark Triad as a whole can be thought of as a short-term, agentic, exploitative social strategy…” (p. 420). 

This means, in simpler terms, that people who show these qualities are trying to get away with acting out against others in order to achieve their own ends.  

Each of the individual qualities alone can make life difficult for those who know people like this. Combined, the Dark Triad traits in another person close to you can be detrimental to your mental health.

People who score high on the traditional Dark Triad measures that test each of the three qualities separately show a pattern of behavior that in fact combines the worst of all worlds.

They seek out multiple, casual sex partners. When someone gets in their way, they act out aggressively to take what they want.

Oddly enough, although their self-esteem doesn’t seem to be either higher or lower than others, people who score high on the Dark Triad qualities have an unstable view of themselves.

Perhaps reflecting the aggressiveness inherent in the Dark Triad, these tendencies are more likely to be shown by men, particularly those who are high on psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

Psychologists are just beginning to discover the darkest sides of the Dark Triad, and there will certainly be more that we learn about the problems they create for others (and themselves) in the very near future. 

In the meantime, Jonason and Webster’s Dirty Dozen scale can give you a quick way to spot the Dark Triad individual in your midst. Rate each item on a 7-point scale as you think it applies to this person. Of course, you can also rate yourself on these qualities to see how you measure up:

  1. I tend to manipulate others to get my way.
  2. I tend to lack remorse.
  3. I tend to want others to admire me.
  4. I tend to be unconcerned with the morality of my actions.
  5. I have used deceit or lied to get my way.
  6. I tend to be callous or insensitive.
  7. I have used flattery to get my way.
  8. I tend to seek prestige or status.
  9. I tend to be cynical.
  10. I tend to exploit others toward my own end.
  11. I tend to expect special favors from others.
  12. I want others to pay attention to me.

The total score can range from 12 to 84, but you can also break down the scales into the three traits as follows:  Machiavellianism= 1, 5, 7, 10; Psychopathy= 2, 4, 6, 9; Narcissism= 3, 8, 11, 12. 

Among the college students tested in a later, validational, study Webster and Jonason (2013) report an average of about 36, with most people scoring between 33 and 39, meaning that anyone scoring upwards of 45 would be considered very high on the Dark Triad total. 

What does it mean, then, to possess high levels of the Dark Triad qualities? In an investigation of how others perceive the Dark Triad traits, Austrian psychologists John Rauthmann and Gerald Kolar (2010) asked non-university adults ranging from 18 to 75 years of age to judge the perceived “darkness” of each Dark Triad quality.

Of the three, narcissism was judged to be the “brightest.”

People who are high on psychopathy and Machiavellianism can cause you harm but many narcissists only harm themselves. 

The argument can even be made that narcissists possess qualities that others find desirable, such as being more physically attractive, charming, conscientious, and achievement-oriented. 

Rauthmann and Kolar suggest that perhaps narcissism should be seen as distinct from the other, which they renamed the “Malicious Two.”

However, other studies suggest that over time, the initial glow of the narcissist’s bright qualities does tend to fade.  People who interact with narcissists like them less and less the more time they spend with them.

It may be difficult for us to rate ourselves on the Dark Triad traits and to see how our behavior affects those of the people we know.

Rauthmann and Kolar found that people rated the consequences for others of these qualities to be worse when committed by others than by oneself. 

In other words, we don’t see the harmful results of our own harmful behavior when directed at others.  We are able to see the harm that others inflict by their own hurtful actions.

As we know from other research, psychopathy and narcissism aren’t single, unitary traits. It may not even be possible to the self-ratings of people on psychopathy scales, given the propensity of psychopaths to lie.  

Furthermore, there’s more than one kind of narcissist- the grandiose and the vulnerable. The Dirty Dozen scale clearly doesn’t capture these subtleties.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology
Media Contacts: 
Annie Drinkard – Society for Personality and Social Psychology
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Closed access
“Foodie Calls: When Women Date Men for a Free Meal (Rather Than a Relationship)”. Brian Collisson, Jennifer L. Howell, Trista Harig.
Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi:10.1177/1948550619856308


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