It’s said we first eat with our eyes, and a recent study from Brigham Young University might prove it—much to the disappointment of our taste buds. The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, shows that all that attention we pay to pictures of our food may actually kill our appetite to eat it.
Study coauthors Jeff Larson and Ryan Elder, both marketing professors in BYU’s Marriott School of Management, said what happens is the over-exposure to food imagery increases people’s satiation, creating the sensation that the food has already been eaten.
“In a way, you’re becoming tired of that taste without even eating the food,” Elder said. “It’s sensory boredom – you’ve kind of moved on. You don’t want that taste experience anymore.”
In the study, half of 232 participants looked at 60 pictures of decadent sweet foods, while the other half viewed 60 pictures of salty, savory snacks, rating each on how appetizing the food appeared. Then the participants ate a salty snack and rated their enjoyment of it—the participants who viewed the salty pictures enjoyed the salty snacks less than those who looked at the sweets. Researchers concluded the subjects were satiated on the specific sensory experience of saltiness.
In a social media landscape where it has become accepted and even expected for us to share every meal (and every other life experience) with our social networks—those same networks that are equally flooded with advertising and other images daily to effect behavior—it’s not surprising that a certain backlash of fatigue would accompany this sharing trend. But it’s also easy to be a little cynical about such a subjective study: perhaps the group that viewed the salty pictures had more of a sweet tooth? What if the snack they’d eaten was stale? What if—and those of you with lots of friends on Instagram understand this—the pictures just weren’t very good?
Both authors agree it takes a lot of pictures to create this sensation of satiation. So while it’s worthy to note the benefit of quality over quantity regarding the images we share personally and professionally over our social networks, it also seems pretty safe to say the popularity of Instagram and Pinterest have piqued the appetites of millions, and are keeping them hungry for more.