It’s Hard to Slow Down When You’re Surrounded by Fast Food

June 6, 2014 Updated: June 6, 2014

If you want to slow down long enough to smell the proverbial roses, you might want to move to a neighborhood with fewer drive-thru restaurants, research suggests.

For a new study, researchers surveyed a few hundred respondents throughout the United States on their ability to savor a variety of enjoyable experiences such as discovering a beautiful waterfall on a hike.

Based upon their zip codes, the researchers linked participants’ responses to objective information from the most recent US Economic Census on the concentration of fast food restaurants in their neighborhood relative to sit-down restaurants.

Published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, the findings reveal that people living in communities with higher prevalence of fast food restaurants were significantly less able to enjoy pleasurable activities that require savoring, even when controlling for economic factors of the individual and the neighborhood.

“If you want to raise kids where they’re less impatient, they’re able to smell the roses, they’re able to delay gratification, then you should choose to live in a neighborhood where there is a lower concentration of fast food restaurants,” says Sanford DeVoe, an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at University of Toronto.

Ready-to-Go Wrapper

DeVoe and colleagues also conducted two experiments to evaluate whether the associations with fast food has a causal effect on people’s ability to slow down and enjoy life. Pictorial reminders of fast food in its ready-to-go packaging were enough to raise people’s impatience and interfere with their subsequent enjoyment of photos of natural beauty or an operatic aria.

However, study participants shown pictures of the same meals on regular ceramic tableware—the kind you might use at home—showed higher levels of enjoyment when experiencing these savoring activities.

The results “are counterintuitive,” DeVoe says. “We think about fast food as saving us time and freeing us up to do the things that we want to do. But because it instigates this sense of impatience, there are a whole set of activities where it becomes a barrier to our enjoyment of them.”

The findings indicate the importance of thinking more carefully about the cues we’re exposed to in our everyday environments—including workplaces—and how they can affect our psychology.

Source: University of Toronto. Republished from under Creative Commons License 3.0.

*Image of “fast food” via Shutterstock