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Fast food makes your life less pleasurable

The greater the role that fast food plays in your life, the less you enjoy life. Psychologists at the University of Toronto in Canada make this outspoken statement in Social Psychological and Personality Science. The Canadians were able to show that even just looking at fast food makes us appreciate nature less and enjoy music less.

Fast food fits in a culture that places a high value on efficiency. We want to do more and more in less and less time. We don't order made-to-measure furniture and wait for it to be delivered, but we go to Ikea in the morning so we can use the furniture the same day. Mealtimes are no longer a ritual; instead we hop in the car and go to McDonald's.

The researchers believe that these developments have psychological consequences. Our culture of speed and efficiency may mean that we become so hurried and impatient that we are no longer able to enjoy our lives because we no longer take the time to do so.

Study 1
The researchers tested this theory in a number of ways, one of which was to get nearly three hundred people to complete the Emotion Regulation Profile Revised questionnaire. This questionnaire measures whether you enjoy pleasant things. The Canadians discovered that the participants scored worse the more fast-food restaurants there were in their vicinity.

Fast food makes your life less pleasurable

Study 2
People feel better and happier if they are surrounded by nature. Even looking at pictures of trees or natural landscapes increases people's feelings of happiness.

The Canadians were able to confirm this effect in an experiment in which they got 275 subjects to look at pictures of nature. But this effect was less when the subjects had first looked at pictures of hamburgers and fries.

Study 3
The researchers repeated Study 2, but in a modified form in which, rather than showing their subjects pictures of nature, they got them to listen to the Flower Duet from Leo Delibes' Lakme. If the subjects were shown pictures of fast food before hearing the music they liked it less than if they were only played the music.

The subjects that had first seen pictures of fast food were more impatient while listening to the music and felt it lasted longer than the other subjects did. The piece only lasted 86 seconds.

"Given the prevalence of fast-food symbols in our everyday environment, it is critical to better understand their influence", the Canadians concluded. "As a ubiquitous symbol of an impatient culture, fast food not only impacts people's physical health but may also shape their experience of happiness in unexpected ways."

Social Psychological and Personality Science 11/2014; 5(5):534-541.