Eating those chips in front of the TV or while listening to loud music can make you consume more than if you ate them at the table in a quiet environment. That's according to a recent study that looked into how important sound was in cuing you when to eat and when to stop.
The study, led by marketing professors Gina Mohr of Colorado State University and Ryan Elder of Brigham Young University, consisted of three experiments. In the first one, 182 participants were divided into three groups: Subjects in the first were told to chew cookies as loudly as possible, the second as quietly as possible, and those in the third group (the control) were told nothing.
In the second experiment, 71 people were divided into two groups and pulled on headphones before enjoying some pretzels. The headphones emitted either loud or soft white noise as they ate.
In the final experiment, 156 participants were given descriptions of the pita chips they were about to eat. Some people received descriptions emphasizing the chips' taste, while others received info regarding the chips' sound during consumption.
So, did sound have any bearing on what people ate?
That depends. Those eating the cookies ate roughly the same amount whether they chomped them loudly or quietly. But the pretzel people listening to the loud white noise ate more pretzels than those listening to the softer sounds. And the folks faced with pita chips after being given info about the chips' crunchiness ate fewer than those who were fed information about the chips' tastiness.
The study subjects didn't substantially trim back caloric intake; in the pretzel experiment, for example, those listening to the loud white noise only ate on average 1.25 more pretzels than those listening to soft sounds. Yet researchers say it's still an important finding. Eating even a little bit more at each meal, all year, can easily cause weight gain, and vice versa. The study authors theorize that because one of the participants' sensory cues was diminished (they couldn't hear themselves chew), they were likelier to eat more.
Keep in mind the experiments show that it's the focusing on sound that affects the amount you eat, not the sound the foods themselves make. Eating too many crunchy chips or a large quiet bowl of ice cream will both cause weight gain. The takeaway should be to eat around a (relatively quiet) dinner table rather than in front of the television or while driving a van full of chattering girls to soccer practice, and to eat mindfully.
Rest easy that your new approach won't ruin your dining pleasure. "It has to do more with focusing on the eating experience, and sound happens to be a natural cue on which consumers can focus," Mohr says. "Across our studies, there were no significant differences on [people's] measures of taste, quality and enjoyment of eating [while focusing on sound]. So focusing on sound can help curb consumption without negatively impacting the delight of eating."
The study will be published in the July 2016 issue of the academic journal Food Quality and Preference.