Fast food found to destroy the ‘enjoyment’ of life
In a study conducted at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and published in 2013 in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers surveyed 280 participants in the United States, questioning them on their ability to savor real-time, natural joys – such as discovering a waterfall on a forest hike.
A ‘loss of joy’ caused by fast food
The researchers correlated the responses with information regarding the density of fast food restaurants versus sit-down restaurants in various zip codes, and found that people living in areas with high concentrations of fast food outlets were significantly less able to enjoy pleasurable activities that require a relaxed state of mind.
The team, noting that they had been careful to control for generational, social and economic differences, reported that exposure to fast food restaurants created a sense of impatience that dulled awareness and enjoyment, conceivably lowering quality of life. They pointed out that the frequency of positive affect is a stronger predictor of future happiness than its intensity – in other words, it is the ability to savor many small, happy moments that is critical to well-being.
Visual cues for fast food had negative health effects
In addition to the survey, the team conducted experiments to examine the psychological effects of visual cues. Amazingly, even pictures of fast food, in its ready-to-go packaging, raised volunteers’ impatience levels and interfered with their ability to enjoy pictures of natural beauty. And musical appreciation was affected as well – the fast food pictures also hampered participant’s ability to subsequently enjoy a beautiful melody.
Researchers then showed pictures of the identical meals – this time served on ceramic tableware of the type that might be used in a home setting or a conventional sit-down restaurant – and participants demonstrated greater appreciation of both the pleasing pictures and the music.
’Living in the present moment’: Difficult with fast food
Researchers noted that although people think the convenience of fast food allows them more time to enjoy their lives, the reality is clear: fast food creates an undesirable, impatient mindset that affects the pleasure of subsequent events.
Of course, proponents of “mindful eating,” – who assert that people will eat a healthier diet, and enjoy it more, when care is taken with the selection, creation and presentation of food – have intuitively known this all along. But the recent research seems to lend scientific credence to the concept.
For lead researcher Sanford DeVoe, an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the University of Toronto, the message is simple. If you want to protect your ability to savor the moment, DeVoe advises, try to live in a neighborhood that features more sit-down restaurants than fast food outlets.
Fast food also seems to affect financial decisions
This is not the first study the team has performed on the undesirable effects of fast food. An earlier study, published in 2010 in Psychological Science, showed that exposure to fast food, and its related symbols, can affect your wallet – it not only promoted people’s sense of haste, but increased preference for time-saving products, regardless of cost.
And the study participants didn’t need to be physically present in a fast food outlet to be affected. Merely recalling a time that they ate at a fast food restaurant was enough to make them subsequently prefer time-saving products.
The presence of fast food visual cues can weaken your resolve to save money.
People exposed to the fast food logos also exhibited greater reluctance for saving; they chose smaller, immediate payouts, rather than waiting for a much larger delayed payment – a fact that caused the team to conclude that fast food restaurants influence everyday thought patterns and behavior much more than has been previously suspected.
Bottom line: Does your diet support a successful life?
The negative psychological effects of fast food are certainly not redeemed by the quality of the meals. While fast food restaurants have made some effort to offer ‘healthier’ fare, much of the food offered by this multibillion dollar industry is still a nutritional disaster – overly processed and high in fat, calories, sugar, sodium and preservatives. With so many Americans battling obesity, heart disease and diabetes, do we really need an 800-calorie hamburger, loaded with 40 grams of toxic (factory-farmed) fat?
Of course, efficiency and convenience, in and of themselves, aren’t always bad things. There is nothing wrong with walking fast if you’re late to a business meeting; however, bolting through a “relaxing” walk in the park is simply counterproductive – and symbolic of the mindless haste that seems to be created by proximity to fast food.
When the sight of the “golden arches” can dilute the joy of seeing a goldfinch on the wing, maybe it’s time to change the view.