Looking at endless images of sweet or salty foods can actually turn people off eating them, psychological research reveals.
While looking at one or two pictures makes people feel hungry, after the first few, it has the opposite effect.
Perhaps one answer to weight loss, then, is to start scrolling through pictures of food on Instagram.
The effect relies on the fact that people generally get tired of anything after they have too much of it.
Psychologists find that nothing beats the first mouthful of food, because we naturally get bored as we eat.
Professor Ryan Elder, who led the study, said:
“In a way, you’re becoming tired of that taste without even eating the food.
It’s sensory boredom — you’ve kind of moved on.
You don’t want that taste experience any more.”
In the study, many hundreds of people were shown pictures of both sweet and salty foods.
The results showed that when people looked at pictures of sweet foods they subsequently rated sweet foods as less tasty.
The same was also true for salty foods.
What is happening is that each time you look at another photograph of some food, you get less pleasure from it.
Like the first taste of chocolate giving you a frisson, the first photograph whets your appetite.
But each subsequent picture — like each subsequent mouthful of chocolate — is less and less exciting, until you get sick of it.
Professor Elder explained:
“You do have to look at a decent number of pictures to get these effects.
It’s not like if you look at something two or three times you’ll get that satiated effect.
That’s good news for food-photo enthusiasts, because, let’s be honest, showing everyone the awesome food you’re eating really is cool.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (Larson et al., 2013).