John M. de Castro, a specialist on human eating habits, has been selected as the new dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Sam Houston State University.
De Castro will take over in mid-summer from Terry Thibodeaux, who has served as interim dean of the college since April 2004, when it was carved out of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Now professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at El Paso, de Castro taught and did research at Georgia State University from 1974 until August 2003, when he took his present position.
His degrees include a bachelor of arts in psychology from Northeastern University (1969), and master’s (1973) and Ph. D. (1974) in psychology from the University of Massachusetts. He also worked for Sylvania Electronic Systems in 1969-70.
De Castro started out by researching the eating patterns of rats. In 1988 he began applying this knowledge to humans. He is perhaps best known for his discoveries relating to the social facilitation of eating.
If you want to eat less, he found, you should eat alone, early, and not while watching TV.
“When people eat in groups they eat on average 44 percent more than when they eat alone,” he said. “In addition, the more people that they eat with, the bigger the effect. Eating in large groups is 76 percent larger than when alone.”
This effect is largest with family and friends and smallest with strangers. It occurs at all times of day, whether eating a meal or a snack, whether eating at home, at work, or in restaurants, whether alcohol is being consumed or not, and whether eating on weekdays or weekends.
He also found in a study of the eating diaries of almost 900 men and women that eating early results in fewer calories consumed, and a study of undergraduate students showed that eating while watching TV results in more calories consumed.
His theory on the TV finding is that food ads encourage eating, and that people just don’t think about what they’re popping into their mouths while entranced by a TV show.
De Castro said he will be continuing his research at Sam Houston State. One project funded for $399,946 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences looks into the influence our physical environments–the ways our cities and neighborhoods are constructed–impact our eating and activity levels.
De Castro said he was looking forward to his new duties.
“I believe that Sam Houston is on the cusp of becoming one of the premiere institutions in the State of Texas. I am very much looking forward to working with the faculty, students, administration and alumni in making that promise a reality.”
David Payne, provost and vice president for academic affairs, expressed his support.
“We are very pleased to have Dr. de Castro joining us at Sam Houston State University,” said Payne. ” We believe he will bring significant strength to the college and the university administrative team.”
The College of Humanities and Social Sciences includes the psychology/philosophy, family/consumer sciences, history, mass communication, English/foreign language, political science, sociology and speech communication departments.