Comfort food is like an hug from the inside out. But what is it about a cup of tea or a chicken pot pie that makes you feel just that little bit better? According to researchers at the University of Buffalo, the answer is nothing; at least, there’s nothing inherent in certain foods that makes them comforting. Rather, it’s all about your emotional and psychological associations. University of Buffalo psychologist Shira Gabriel explains,

“Comfort foods are often the foods that our caregivers gave us when we were children. As long as we have positive association with the person who made that food then there’s a good chance that you will be drawn to that food during times of rejection or isolation. It can be understood as straight-up classical conditioning.” 

That explains why we all reach for different snacks when we need to soothe ourselves, and why many of those foods are things we enjoyed as children: hot chocolate, ice cream, your mother’s “famous” mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese. If you have positive social associations with that food, eating it can make you feel more calm, secure, and happy.

Chicken soup, however, is the exception to this rule since it works on both a psychological and physical level. According to a study at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, something in “Jewish penicillin” actually reduces cold symptoms such as stuffiness, mucus, coughing, and sneezing.

The bad news is they still don’t know exactly what the magical ingredient is, reports ABC News. But the good news is some canned soups are just as, if not more, effective than homemade. A can of Campbell’s might not have the same comforting associations as grandma’s chicken soup, but it will make you feel better none the less. And instead of cooking, you can go back to your Netflix marathon. Gotta love science.

[via Modern FarmerABC News]