A new study released in October by the Journal of Consumer Psychology concluded that looking at too many pictures of food on Instagram or Pinterest can ruin a person’s dining experience. (For those of you who don’t know, Instagram is a photo-editing program and social network that allows you to take pictures, put filters on them to add effects, and post for friends to see.) The study, which was carried out by marketing professors at a university in Utah, asked 116 young people to look at pictures of salty foods, while another 116 looked at pictures of sweet foods. All of them ate peanuts afterwards and were asked to rate their eating experience. Those who had looked at pictures of salty foods enjoyed their peanuts less than those who had looked at sweet foods, even though there were no pictures of peanuts in the study.
Study coauthor Ryan Elder explains why: “[It makes] you feel like you’ve already experienced eating that food… You’re becoming tired of that taste without even eating the food. It’s sensory boredom – you’ve kind of moved on.” Both Elder and coauthor Jeff Larson say it’s necessary to look at a lot of pictures in order to get that satiated feeling from a particular food, but it could be a good way to make tempting foods less appealing. Larson says, “If you want to prevent yourself from eating too much of a certain unhealthy food, you may want to look at more pictures of that food.” Perhaps this will be the next fad diet?
It’s an interesting study, but the conclusion isn’t surprising. Looking at too much of anything will make anyone bored. I’m more concerned about the people who are so busy taking, filtering, and posting pictures to online friends that they forget to interact with the friends or family who might be sitting around the table. While overindulging on Instagram might ruin one’s appetite, there are plenty of ways to enhance one’s appetite, and most involve unplugging. Family dinners, when everyone sits down together and talks, are crucially important for child development. Focusing on and savoring food slowly helps people to eat less and be healthier. Joining in a pre-noshing ritual, such as grace or a moment of gratitude or even singing "Happy Birthday," makes people perceive their food as being tastier. My mom used to say, “Shared food always tastes better,” but I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean sharing it as “#foodporn” with the whole world. I'll leave the picture-taking to the professionals and enjoy the meal before it gets cold.