You Eat With Your Eyes First, And Then Your Mouth

Have you ever seen a picture of food that looks so good you can almost taste it in your own mouth? Pictures of food that are so ripe, so real, so up-close and personal — they’ll make your mouth hang open. Maybe even drool a little.

Scrolling social media is proof that food is sexy by nature, at least to our brains. Piles of piping hot pasta never looked so good.  Don’t get me started on sushi. Or decadently drizzled deserts. How about the fresh-baked bread complete with crispy crust and maybe a sprig of something?

Snapping foodie photos has sparked a culinary art form. The term “food porn” even gets thrown around as a compliment for particularly sexy shots of different snacks. So it’s no wonder that researchers at Ohio State University have finally turned the alluring blend of senses into a science project.

The college’s culinary management program concocted a study in order to determine whether filtered food pics influence consumers. Restaurants would sure like to know, as would caterers, bakers, and anyone in the industry.

What say you? Does an appetizing picture of a menu item sway your decision?

Unsurprisingly, the research says ‘yes.’

Adding saturation to an image of food, or boosting the color and brilliance of the shot both made the image more appealing for diners. To prove this, researchers uploaded four pictures of a tuna poke bowl (a dish made in heaven!): plump pieces of sashimi tuna, pineapple, rice and sauce. I picture it with a dash of sesame seed tossed in for show.

Study participants were then asked to evaluate the dishes for freshness and tastiness as if they were ordering from an online platform like Uber Eats. Pictures were posted by an imaginary restaurant named Poke Kitchen. Some were shot extremely close up, others farther away. A few images were filtered while others were not. The final test was simple: would they be more inclined to buy the meal as a result?

Researchers learned a few things about the connection between eyes and stomach. Color saturated photos were much preferred: test subjects described them as fresher and better tasting. Also, distant food pics were preferred more so than close-ups. Evidently, food actually looks more appetizing from a slight distance.

Also interesting was that the enhanced food visuals were more important to people ordering for one. The implication being, people who are eating alone are more focused on their food.

The takeout, er, takeaway, here is that we make food choices a lot like we make many choices in life: based on looks. This revelation isn’t a bad thing or the worst thing in the world, but it can lead to poor decisions. Worse yet, regret. A bare bones chicken breast just can’t compete in this arena.

While it is fun to feast on eye candy, greater image saturation doesn’t always add up to greater long-term health, or therefore satisfaction, in the real world.

What do you think?


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