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Like some happiness with that? Rotman study suggests fast food cues hurt ability to savor experiences

June 2, 2014

TORONTO, ON – Want to be able to smell the ros­es?

You might con­sid­er buy­ing into a neigh­bour­hood where there are more sit-down restau­rants than fast-food out­lets, sug­gests a new paper from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment.

The paper looks at how expo­sure to fast food can push us to be more impa­tient and that this can under­mine our abil­i­ty to smell the prover­bial ros­es.

One study, sur­veyed a few hun­dred respon­dents through­out the U.S. on their abil­i­ty to savor a vari­ety of real­is­tic, 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 U.S. Eco­nom­ic Cen­sus on the con­cen­tra­tion of fast-food restau­rants in their neigh­bor­hood rel­a­tive to sit-down restau­rants. The find­ings revealed 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.The study’s authors pro­pose that’s because fast food can incite peo­ple to feel more impa­tient, dimin­ish­ing their abil­i­ty to slow down and savour life’s sim­pler joys.

“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 neigh­bour­hood where there is a low­er con­cen­tra­tion of fast food restau­rants,” said San­ford DeVoe, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of orga­ni­za­tion­al behav­ior and human resource man­age­ment at the Rot­man School, who co-wrote the paper with fel­low Julian House, a Rot­man PhD stu­dent, and Chen-Bo Zhong, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of orga­ni­za­tion­al behav­ior and human resource man­age­ment.

The researchers also con­duct­ed two exper­i­ments to eval­u­ate whether the asso­ci­a­tions with fast food has a causal effect on people’s abil­i­ty to smell the ros­es. 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 counter-intu­itive,” said Prof. DeVoe. “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, he said.

The paper was pub­lished in Social Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Per­son­al­i­ty Sci­ence.

Read a col­umn from The New York Times on June 1 on the paper by Prof. DeVoe here.

For the lat­est think­ing on busi­ness, man­age­ment and eco­nom­ics from the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, vis­it

The Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is redesign­ing busi­ness edu­ca­tion for the 21st cen­tu­ry with a cur­ricu­lum based on Inte­gra­tive Think­ing. Locat­ed in the world’s most diverse city, the Rot­man School fos­ters a new way to think that enables the design of cre­ative busi­ness solu­tions.  For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it


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Ken McGuf­fin
Man­ag­er, Media Rela­tions
Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
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