While the findings don’t reflect reality, where we’re typically exposed to multiple streams of information, images and tweets, we’d still notice and process how many followers a Twitter account has, Tessitore says, so it’s likely to have the same effect.
But at the moment, we’re a long way from being able to nudge people towards healthier diets with posts about salads and steering people away from the powerful pictures of oozing protein.
“We’re fighting years of evolution here,” says Pancer. “There’s a reason we’ve evolved to look for calorie-dense food in food-scarce environments. But eating what feels good is misfiring – we now need to find ways to recalibrate this.”
Pancer has found in his research that, as soon as we demystify why seeing photos of burgers and chips feels good, the feel-good effect goes away. In other words – if we understand that we’re biologically programmed to feel good when we see photos of burgers, perhaps we can become less prone to being influenced by it.
In one study, he and his team asked participants to watch one of two videos, one with calorie-light and one with calorie-dense foods. Those who watched more calorie-dense foods felt more positive afterwards.
In the second part of the study, he told participants that their feelings weren’t based on the food they were about to see, but on a low frequency, mood-boosting sound that was being played, one which wasn’t detectable to humans, while a second group had no influence.
Those who were told about the sound were no more likely to report that they’d engage with the video on social media after watching the video of calorie-dense food.
But ultimately, when we click off social media and go back into real life, the many influences on what and how we eat are still much stronger, experts say.
“I expect that food cues are stronger in person,” says Argeseanu. “We’re not engaging in the same way when scrolling through photos, and we’re not engaging for long. Also, some research shows that if we’re scrolling through lots of photos, we start to tune them out – we start to feel something that feels like satiety, as if we’ve eaten them all.”
At least if you do choose to only enjoy these feasts over Instagram, it won’t leave you needing to loosen your belt.
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