September 16, 2014

Study Shows Action Movies Make You Eat More

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Snacking on a bowl of popcorn, chips or grapes is a must-have when sitting down to watch a movie or your favorite TV show. But Aner Tal, a research associate in the Food and Brand Lab, has found a connection between watching engaging television and eating more food.

“We try to identify mindless eating traps; Situations in life that can lead people to mindlessly eat more or chose food that they shouldn’t and then offer easy fixes for them,” Tal said.

According to Tal, much of the inspiration for this type of research comes out of personal experience. In general, he said, we know that TV is distracting and that distractions can lead to people eating more food, but this research focused on whether different types of content could also affect eating habits.

To study this, Tal took 94 undergraduate students and split them into three groups. One group watched 20 minutes of The Island, a 2005 thriller directed by Michael Bay, while a second group watched 20 minutes of the Charlie Rose Show, a talk show “that is fairly laid-back; no chair throwing or anything,” Tal said. A third group watched 20 minutes of The Island without sound.

During this 20 minute period, students were given four types of easily accessible snacks to choose from: carrots, grapes, M&Ms and cookies.

The researchers found that, across the board, people ate more when they watched dynamic television, even when it was without sound, than slower content such as a talk show. No difference between the quantity of healthy versus unhealthy food eaten was found, however, Tal said.

According to Tal, this research has led to several further questions which are now being explored in both the Food and Brand Lab and the Food and Brand Lab research seminar for undergraduate students.

For example, if engaged audiences ate more of any snack in front of them, could they be tricked into eating healthier if only healthier snacks, such as vegetables, were in front of them.

“It would be a way to swallow the medicine without noticing it,” Tal said.

Another way to avoid eating more, Tal said, is to not have an entire bag or box of snacks when watching TV, but to rather control the portion you put in front of you before you start eating.

“Even small obstacles in the way can stop mindless eating,” he said.

Courtesy of Aner TalCinematic snacking | Aner Tal, a research associate in the Food and Brand Lab, found that watching action movies can lead to overeating.