Study: Mere Sight of Fast Food Shortens Your Attention Span

The influence of fast food can make it harder for us to savor different experiences, according to a new paper from the University of Toronto

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The cost of fast food is higher than you think.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have published a paper that shows consistent correlation between access to fast food and decreased attention spans. In other words, the more you look at a Big Mac, the more impatient you become. Moreover, acclimation to too much convenience, represented by the Big Mac, can dull our ability to appreciate good things in life.

In the first test, conducted by researchers Julian House, Sanford DeVoe, and Chen-Bo Zhong, 280 participants were surveyed for their “emotional responses to enjoyable experiences,” and the results were plotted against their ZIP codes. Residents of areas with more fast food were less likely to savor an experience.

Next, 257 subjects were split into two groups and asked to look at either McDonald’s in standard packaging or in everyday tableware. The subjects were then asked to rate their happiness upon seeing a series of images of natural beauty. Those who saw McDonald’s food in standard packaging rated their happiness lower after looking at the scenic images.

In the final test, 122 volunteers looked at the same sets of McDonald’s food (standard packaging vs. tableware), and then listened to an opera aria. Subjects who looked at the standard packaging reported that they enjoyed the music less, and perceived the music to go on longer.

In an email exchange, DeVoe told Fast Company, "While the effects of fast food on our physical health are well-documented, what is most striking in this research is how fast food can alter the way we experience our time by making us more impatient, which then influences us across a wide variety of domains completely unrelated to food."

Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.


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