Golden arches, red pigtails, a smiling Colonel Sanders -- these iconic fast food symbols may seem harmless enough, but new research reveals a darker truth behind this seemingly innocent branding.
The Social Psychological and Personality Science journal recently published a study titled, "Too Impatient to Smell the Roses: Exposure to Fast Food Impedes Happiness [pdf]." In the study, researchers Julian House, Sanford E. DeVoe and Chen-Bo Zhong used fast food symbols as triggers to examine how people relate to their increasingly hurried world.
The researchers set out to test the assumption that fast food logos, which have come to represent speed and efficiency, are associated with more leisure time and greater happiness. They suspected that instead of leading to greater joy, society's focus on speed may actually inhibit our ability to enjoy life.
They conducted three experiments based on the hypothesis that fast food stimulates a sense of impatience and may affect how people savor pleasant experiences. In the first experiment, 285 participants filled out a survey on their own propensity to savor pleasant experiences, and researchers measured their answers against the concentration of fast food restaurants in their neighborhood. The second experiment tested 257 participants' reactions to an image of natural beauty, after having been primed with a visual cue of fast food. The third measured 122 participants' reactions to a harmonious melody, after having been primed with a fast food symbol.
In all three cases, participants revealed a decreased capacity to savor, which impeded their ability to enjoy pleasant experiences. Instead of directly causing unhappiness, fast food symbolism indirectly precluded participants from finding happiness on their own. With fast food symbolism reinforcing our chronic impatience, we have a harder time "stopping to smell the roses," the study concludes.
The study authors acknowledged the limitations of their findings and emphasize the need for further research. They hope to conduct further experiments on the impact of "symbols of time efficiency."