Boring enough to come up with a theory of salad bar usage that could, if one were bored enough, be empirically tested (I would answer.)
See, with every meal, we have a salad/fruit bar available. Obviously, one can predict that when the meal is not appealing or unfamiliar to the kids, the salad bar gets used by many who don’t eat anything else. But, if we were to hold the meal quality/tastiness constant, what would predict the likelihood that any particular girl scout will use a bowl at the salad bar?
This is an important question. To me. Because I cut veggies for the salad bar and wash the bowls they use.
Is there an inherent quality (or, at least, an outside-of-the-dining hall quality) that makes one a salad-bar-user (SBU)? Or does the social context of the meal influence an individual’s salad bar usage?
The observed data could point to either conclusion. For instance, when the “hoppers” (those who take the food to the tables and return the dishes after the meal) bring the dirty dishes from their tables (8 girls/table) back to the kitchen, it quite often happens that most people at the table are SBUs or none are. Either they bring back 6-8 bowls for their table or 0-2. There is very rarely a middle ground.
This could mean that one person going to the salad bar encourages the others at her table to do the same. The possible paths for this result include peer pressure (“come with me to the salad bar!”), noticing the tasty things at the salad bar through ones’ tablemate (“that bell pepper sure looks tasty! I think I’ll go get one.”) or perhaps through feeling more comfortable going to the salad bar once a few others at your table have gone.
But there is another possible explanation. Perhaps those who are inclined to be SBUs tend to share characteristics that lead them to sit at the same table and those who tend not to be SBUs have other characteristics that draw them together. What could people who go to the salad bar have in common with each other outside of going to the salad bar? Perhaps they are healthier eaters? Perhaps they are heavier eaters? Who knows. We don’t have enough data to make a call.
One way that we could get at the answer to whether peer influence or table homogeneity has a bigger role in creating the SBU polarization would be to see 1) how often table composition changes, i.e. do the same girls always eat together or is it kind of mixed up at every meal?, and 2) how consistent is SBU-behavior? Do girls who go to the salad bar go to the salad bar every meal or is it kind of random? Are there are girls who never go?