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Fast foods, road rage, and impatience: Are they linked to the need for speed?

Convenience is king when people are too busy and/or too poor to obtain, prepare, and eat the healthiest foods. Yet in public media, so many busy, impatient people who can afford the healthiest of foods still consume fast foods with haste and hurry from eating and driving to eating fast food two or three meals a day. The fast food breakfast of eggs cheese, and meats, the fast food lunch of chicken wings, burgers, or other sandwiches from bacon to barbeque, and for some poor families, burgers and chips or fries for the evening meal is cheaper than buying vegetables in supermarkets or other stores, since many Sacramentans may live in a food desert or may not participate in seasonal urban gardening at local houses of worship or community gardens for a rental fee. Is fast food promoting a general sense of haste and impatience regardless of the context? Studies say so. You may wish to check out studies such as Fast Food and Impatience: Can Where You Live Affect Your Emotional and Financial Well-Being? and the PDF article, "You Are How You Eat: Fast food and Impatience."

Fast foods, road rage, and impatience: Are they linked to the need for speed?
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The way people eat has far-reaching (often unconscious) influences on behaviors and choices unrelated to eating says a recent study, The Rotman paper, "You Are How You Eat: Fast food and Impatience," finds exposure to fast food can make us impatient. Fast food is not only bad for your body, but may also harm your bank account. Eating habits have shifted dramatically over the last few decades--fast food has become a multibillion dollar industry that has widespread influence on what and how we eat.

The original idea behind fast food is to increase efficiency, allowing people to quickly finish a meal so they can move on to other matters. Researchers at the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management however, have found that the mere exposure to fast food and related symbols can make people impatient, increasing preference for time saving products, and reducing willingness to save.

"Fast food represents a culture of time efficiency and instant gratification," says Chen-Bo Zhong, according to a March 25, 2010 news release, "Rotman paper finds exposure to fast food can make us impatient." Chen-Bo Zhong co-wrote the paper with colleague Sanford DeVoe published online March 19, 2010 in the journal Psychological Science. "The problem is that the goal of saving time gets activated upon exposure to fast food regardless of whether time is a relevant factor in the context. For example, walking faster is time efficient when one is trying to make a meeting, but it's a sign of impatience when one is going for a stroll in the park. We're finding that the mere exposure to fast food is promoting a general sense of haste and impatience regardless of the context."

In one experiment, the researchers flashed fast food symbols, such as the golden arch of McDonald's, on a computer screen for a few milliseconds, so quick that participants couldn't consciously identify what they saw

They found that this unconscious exposure increased participants' reading speed in a subsequent task compared to those in a control condition, even when there was no advantage to finishing sooner. In another study, participants who recalled a time when they eat at a food restaurant subsequently preferred time-saving products—such as two-in-one shampoo—over regular products. A final experiment found people exposed to fast food logos exhibited greater reluctance for saving —choose a smaller immediate payment rather than opting for a much larger delayed payment.

"Fast food is one of many technologies that allow us to save time," says Sanford DeVoe, according to the news release. "But the ironic thing is that by constantly reminding us of time efficiency, these technologies can lead us to feel much more impatience. A fast food culture that extols saving time doesn't just change the way we eat but it can also fundamentally alter the way they experience our time. For example, leisure activities that are supposed to be relaxing can come to be experienced through the color glasses of impatience."

The researchers point out that it's impossible to know whether fast food in part caused the value for time efficiency in our culture or is merely a consequence of it—but it's clear from their findings that exposure to fast food reinforces an emphasis on impatience and instant gratification. "Given the role that financial impatience played in the current economic crisis," says Chen-Bo Zhong, according to the news release, "we need to move beyond counting calories when we examine the consequences of fast food as it is also influencing our everyday psychology and behavior in a wider set of domains than has been previously thought." A more recent version of that article has been published. See the abstract, "You Are How You Eat: Fast Food and Impatience."

Study suggests fast food cues hurt ability to savor experience

Want to be able to smell the roses? You might consider buying into a neighborhood where there are more sit-down restaurants than fast-food outlets, suggests a new paper from the University of Toronto, 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 preverbal roses.

One study, surveyed a few hundred respondents throughout the US 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 US 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 savor 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 neighborhood where there is a lower concentration of fast food restaurants," said Sanford DeVoe, according to a June 2, 2014 news release, "Study suggests fast food cues hurt ability to savor experience."

DeVoe is 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.

If you think about the study and are living in a place far from where the study took place, such as Sacramento, noteworthy is the reality of how do you smell the roses when walking down any given street in Sacramento, especially in the Arden Arcade area of Watt and Marconi Avenues to El Camino when you see fast-food wrappers and food trash simply tossed onto the sidewalk, lawns, or in the gutter? Do you stoop to pick up the litter such as fast-food wrappings and soda cups or plastic bottles that someone tossed on the sidewalk, on lawns, or in the gutter? You do see now and then a few elderly people actually picking up after a child or teenager on a bike tosses a can of soda or fast-food cup or wrapper on the sidewalk. But why aren't parents telling their kids to hold the wrappers or fast food paper bags until they see a trash can?

There needs to be more sites of greenery, trees, and parks or at least some urban spaces where people can sit and look at the view of nature instead of rows of fast-food eateries, thrift shops, and littered parking lots and soda-wracked, fast-food wrapper-strewn, spilled foods and beverages on sidewalks and around light rail stations. The location here is distant from the location of the studies, but the reminders of litter on sidewalks instead of public garden spaces or greenery in urban settings are the same.

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, in the study. 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.

Counter-intuitive: Does fast-food save us time? Not when the trash is strewn on the sidewalks

The results "are counter-intuitive," said Prof. DeVoe, according to the news release. "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." Why are so many people of any age so impatient after eating fast food on the run that they can't put their litter in trash cans? Impatience is a form of anger and also may be related to road rage.

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, according tot he news release. 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. You also may wish to check out the article by Sanford Devoe, "Fast Food and Impatience: Can Where You Live Affect Your emotional Wellbeing?"

De Voe emphasizes that people are so busy and impatient that convenience foods and fast foods came out of technological innovations

People appear to want instant foods as they would want instant email. The article explains the shift towards instantaneity extends to nourishment and sustenance.

If you remember the 1950s TV dinners, they consisted of frozen prepared meals that could be heated up and eaten on metal plates while watching TV or working. In this era, there's the microwave along with foods processed in containers that can be microwaved along with the foods. The problem is in other experiments with microwaved water, the water becomes so lacking in life that plants won't grow very much, if at all, in microwaved water.

The trend to impatience seems to take people away from the oven, or the time it takes water to heat up. In Sacramento, for example, some streets have fast-food eateries every two blocks down a long stretch of avenue. And so many fast-food restaurants offer hot meals that can be picked up at drive-thru windows and are ready to be consumed on the go, De Voe writes. The theme is that from its production to its consumption, fast food both embodies and symbolizes speed and instant gratification. De Voe gives the resource as the 1993 work by G.Ritzer, The "McDonaldization" of Society, Newbury Park, CA: Pine Forge Press. "McDonaldization" is a term used by sociologist George Ritzer in his book The McDonaldization of Society (1993). See, The McDonaldization of Society - Amazon Web Service.

How deeply is instant gratification and speed imbedded in society? De Voe notes that our associations with fast food can induce greater impatience. You also may wish to check out a resource, the study, "Weight status and restaurant availability: A multilevel analysis," published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 34, 127-133. 2008. The authors are Mehta, N. K., and Chang, V. W. De Voe mentions in his article that you might check to see that the number of sit-down restaurants outnumbers the number of fast food restaurants. You also may wish to check out, "Neighborhood Environments: Disparities in Access to Healthy Foods in the U.S."

Sanford E. DeVoe is an Associate Professor at Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto. He studies the role organizations play in influencing how we look at the tradeoffs between time and money and how each is valued. You also may wish to check out an excellent book published in 2008, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Authors are Thaler, R.H. and Sunstein, C.R. Yale University Press. You may wish to check out the abstract of the study, "Young Adult Eating and Food-Purchasing Patterns," published online November 2010 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Another noteworthy article is "Restaurant Realities: Inequalities in Access to Healthy Restaurant Choices. More vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants/eateries is so much needed here in Sacramento, for example, especially in areas where there's an abundance of discount stores, thrift shops, and fast food eateries every few blocks, but few or no vegan, low-fat, or vegetarian-friendly choices that don't add excess salt, sugar, or fats to the foods, which keep the salt-sensitive population from being able to find healthier foods outside of cooking at home. For the present, one solution seems to be cooking at home, raw foods, and reversal diets.