There is good reason we associate popcorn with summer blockbusters more than with other, more understated fare. According to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine by Aner Tal, a psychologist at Cornell, action movies are more likely to lead to overeating because of how they distract us from all the deliciously unhealthy things we are jamming into our mouths.
In the study, conducted by researchers at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, 94 undergraduates snacked on M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes while watching 20 minutes of television programming. A third of the participants watched a segment of the action movie The Island, a third watched a segment from the talk show, the Charlie Rose Show, and a third watched the same segment from The Island without sound.
“People who were watching The Island ate almost twice as many snacks – 98% more than those watching the talk show!” says co-author Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design (forthcoming) and Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “Even those watching ‘The Island’ without sound ate 36% more.” People watching the more distracting content also consumed more calories, with 354 calories consumed by those watching The Island (314 calories with no sound) compared to 215 calories consumed by those watching the Charlie Rose Show.
“More stimulating programs that are fast paced, include many camera cuts, really draw you in and distract you from what you are eating. They can make you eat more because you’re paying less attention to how much you are putting in your mouth,” explains Tal.
A shocking finding? No. But it’s a useful reminder that even though we see choices about diet and exercise as existing in a realm of careful, methodical goal-making and forethought, a lot of that hard work can be undone by cues and temptations we may not even be fully aware of. I’d also be interested in knowing how much people eat when they’re watching really good, engrossing, or suspenseful dramas — based on the logic of this study, one would think they’d have similar effects.