Chocolate is the quintessential comfort food. When you’re depressed and there’s no easy solution, chances are you might be somebody who thinks the moment could be improved by adding chocolate. It’s part of our folk wisdom. I have saved a foil wrapper from a square of Dove chocolate with a message printed on the inside: “If you have chocolate, who needs therapy?” Corporate America is in on the joke. Now the scientific research is in: depressed people eat more chocolate. You think?
On April 26 of this year, results of a study of chocolate and depression, conducted at UC Davis and UC San Diego, appeared in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Within two days, the research findings hit the online news media. Here are a few of the headlines, all citing the same study:
“People With Depression Eat More Chocolate” (University of California)
“Study Links Chocolate and Depression” (Los Angeles Times)
“New Study Links Depression to Too Much Chocolate” (Dallas Healthy Trends Examiner)
“Chocolate, a Cure for Depression” (Fox News)
“Chocolate Lovers are More Depressive (BBC News)
“Chocolate Consumption May Cause Depression” (PsychCentral.com)
“Depression Makes People Eat More Chocolate” (Softpedia.com)
“People Who Ate More Chocolate Have Depression” (Pravda)
“Chocolate is Linked to Depression: Study” (Hindustani Times)
“Is Chocolate a Mood Food for Depression?” (Allvoices.com)
“Eating Chocolate is Linked to Depression” (Wall Street Journal)
“More Chocolate Means More Depression, or Vice Versa” (WebMD)
A Google search generated 194,000 similar results for posts appearing the same week. Whew. You might think people were concerned. The study itself made a very simple claim: depressed people eat more chocolate. Period. This correlation does not tell anything at all about how the two things are related. The findings allow many possible interpretations, including that chocolate helps relieve depression, or that chocolate causes depression, or that depression causes chocolate cravings, or that both depression and chocolate cravings come from something else, like spending too much time reading the news online. But readers of these news sources might come away thinking that the research proved one or another of these things. Expectations color our experience, and so do our hopes and fears; we reveal a little bit about ourselves when we interpret things.
So now we know with confidence that depressed people eat more chocolate. Of course, we knew that already. What now? You are your own experiment. After you eat chocolate, be mindful of how you feel. If you are even briefly less depressed, give thanks. If you were not depressed in the first place, give thanks. Use moderation (in moderation). And be careful about trusting what you read, even from generally reliable sources. Full disclosure: the author consumed all the chocolate appearing in the photograph below with the help of friends, in the spirit of scientific inquiry. Findings: no depression.