Seeing photos posted online of what your friends are eating can ruin your appetite by making you feel like you’ve already experienced eating that food, researchers from Brigham Young University reported.
“In a way, you’re becoming tired of that taste without even eating the food,” said study coauthor Ryan Elder, Ph.D. “It’s sensory boredom — you’ve kind of moved on. You don’t want that taste experience anymore.”
Elder and coauthor Jeff Larson, Ph.D., both marketing professors in BYU’s Marriott School of Management, said what happens is that over-exposure to images of food increases people’s satiation.
Satiation is defined as a drop in enjoyment with repeated consumption. For example, the fifth bite of cake or the fourth hour of playing a video game are less enjoyable than the first, the researchers point out.
For the study, Larson and Elder recruited 232 people to rate pictures of food.
In one of their studies, half of the people viewed 60 pictures of sweet foods like cake, truffles and chocolates, while the other half looked at 60 pictures of salty foods, such as chips, pretzels and French fries.
After rating each picture based on how appetizing that food appeared, each person finished the experiment by eating peanuts, a salty food. They then were asked to rate how much they enjoyed eating the peanuts.
The researchers found that the people who looked at the salty foods ended up enjoying the peanuts less, even though they never looked at peanuts, just at other salty foods. That’s because they satiated on the specific sensory experience of saltiness, according to the researchers.
“If you want to enjoy your food consumption experience, avoid looking at too many pictures of food,” Larson said. “Even I felt a little sick to my stomach during the study after looking at all the sweet pictures we had.”
However, if you have a weakness for a certain food — say, chocolate — and want to prevent yourself from enjoying it, you may want to look at more pictures of that food, he suggested.
The researchers noted the effect is stronger the more pictures you view.
“You do have to look at a decent number of pictures to get these effects,” Elder said. “It’s not like if you look at something two or three times you’ll get that satiated effect.”
Larson and Elder, along with University of Minnesota coauthor Joseph Redden, Ph.D., published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
Source: Brigham Young University