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BY CONNIE LLANOS, Staff Writer
Article First Published: 10/12/2007 in the L.A. Daily News
NORTHRIDGE - We've already heard that chocolate lowers blood pressure, cleans out our arteries and even reduces cancer risk.
But can the decadent treat also help us see the brighter side of life?
A study co-authored by a CSUN psychology professor suggests it could.
In his study, "Fudging the Numbers: Distributing Chocolate Influences Student Evaluations of an Undergraduate Course," assistant professor Robert Youmans found that students who were offered chocolate before evaluating their professors had nicer things to say about them than those who were deprived of the sweet.
"I guess there is something more than just tradition to the act of giving chocolate," Youmans said, adding that there could be a practical application to his findings.
"If someone is evaluating you, bring them chocolate and they could see you more positively. I know I'll be bringing more chocolate to my fiancee, especially when I'm in trouble."
Youmans' study will be published in the fall edition of the journal Teaching of Psychology, said officials at California State University, Northridge.
Youmans conducted the research, along with Northwestern University researcher Benjamin D. Jee, while working on his Ph.D at the University of Illinois at Chicago last spring. He said he was curious about how outside influences affected student evaluations of professors.
"Student evaluations are vital to a professor's success," he said. "At a school like CSUN, they are the major ingredient that decides whether a professor gets promoted or gets tenure."
Youmans and Jee visited undergraduate lecture classes that broke up into two smaller study groups. In one group, the researchers passed out evaluations and waited while students completed them. In another, they did the same - but offered the students chocolate they said was left over from a previous event.
They repeated the experiment in three classes, and each time the groups offered chocolate gave their professors higher ratings than the groups not offered the candy.
"Not everyone in the classes offered chocolate took the candy," Youmans said. "Also, we made it clear in all the classes that we were not affiliated with the professor, just `strangers' asked to pass out and retrieve evaluations.
"We found that the good feelings brought on by the offer of chocolate from a complete stranger, even in those students who didn't accept the candy, affected the professors' evaluations in a positive way."
The results of the study were no surprise to Joan Steuer, president of Chocolate Marketing LLC and founding editor of Chocolatier Magazine.
"I believe chocolate makes you happier, it makes you nicer and it puts you in a better mood," Steuer said. "Chocolate is a mood-lifter; it's a happy treat."
Upper and downer
Steuer said several studies have been done on the psychological effects of chocolate. For example, it is one of the few foods that can simultaneously pick people up and calm them down.
"Some people like to draw a bubble bath and have a moment with their chocolate, while others like to have a piece during a lull in the afternoon," Steuer said.
Chocolate has been linked to childhood feelings of comfort, familiarity and happier times. Also, Steuer notes that chocolate melts at exactly 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit - the human body temperature.
"It really becomes a part of your body and it's something we learn to crave."
Just ask Don and Dena Meyers, a Woodland Hills couple married for 50 years - due, in part, to a shared devotion to dark chocolate.
Despite Dena's diabetes, the pair make the occasional trip to the See's Candies in Reseda.
"It makes me feel wonderful," Dena said outside the store.
"If she asks me for chocolate," Don added,"I have to give it to her."