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Foodstagramming Rhymes With Cramming (Food in Your Mouth)

Taking pictures of your food changes the way it tastes

This is a guest post by Mollie Bernstein, Williams College class of 2018.

Picture this: you’re sitting at a cafe with your friend. The waiter brings your food, but before you can dig in, your friend says, “Wait, I need to Instagram this!” Several torturous minutes of her rearranging eggs and taking pictures later, you can start eating.

It is a trend known on Instagram as “foodstagramming.” There are hundreds of pages and hashtags on Instagram, Twitter, etc. that are dedicated to posts about food, especially with regards to eating healthy. According to Urban Dictionary, people foodstagram to “make others jealous about the current libations one is consuming or has prepared.” But recent research (Carey & Poor, 2016) suggests a different reason: the act of taking a picture before eating can actually make food taste better.

The first part of their research investigated whether taking a picture or not taking a picture of either a healthy fruit salad or a piece of red velvet cake made consumption tastier. They found that photographing red velvet cake made it tastier, but it didn’t affect the healthy fruit salad. In the second part of the study, researchers investigated the effects of photographed healthy and indulgent food. When the red velvet cake was branded as indulgent, it was rated higher than when it was branded as more healthful.

These results support other research about the perceived quality of food. For example, people get more pleasure from drinking wine when they think cost $90 than when they think it cost $5 (Doucleff, 2013). Yogurt and cheese spreads labeled low-fat are rated less pleasant tasting than those labeled full-fat (Wardle & Solomons, 1994).

So photographing indulgent food can make it taste better. Can we say the same about healthy food? Yes, in fact we can. In the third part of the study, researchers found that once consumers were aware that other people were also eating healthy food, by scrolling through #cleaneating or #kalesmoothie posts on Instagram, photographing healthy food could trick them into thinking that kale smoothies were actually tastier than they would normally think had they not photographed them first.

There are two possible explanations for why this occurs. The first is that interacting with your food—arranging it on a table, photographing it—enhances consumption because you are more involved in the food eating experience (Vohs et al., 2013).

The second explanation is due to how your expectations of food affect your perception of its taste. This process is known as top down processing. Seeing others post pictures about how they are eating healthy makes eating look more desirable. It’s a trend and you want to take part in it. For example, you see the healthy food in front of you and form a belief, “I’m eating healthy and I want all my friends to see that I am eating healthy.” You believe that eating healthy is enjoyable, so when you take the first sip of your kale smoothie, you actually enjoy the experience, and think the kale smoothie is tastier than it would have been had you not publicized it.

So whether or not you are about to eat a piece of cake or a healthy acai bowl, to get the most out of your dining experience (and your money), you may want to consider becoming a Foodstagrammer first.

This is a guest post by Mollie Bernstein, Williams College class of 2018.

References

Coary, S., & Poor, M. (2016). How Consumer-Generated Images Shape Important Consumption Outcomes in the Food Domain. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 33, 1-8.

Doucleff, M. (2013, October 11). Drinking With Your Eyes: How Wine Labels Trick Us Into Buying. NPR Food for Thought. Podcast retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/10/10/231458853/drinking-with-…

McNeilly, C. (2016, March 7). The Psychological Case for Instagramming Your Food. Science of Us. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/03/the-psychological-case-for-instagr…

Vohs, K.D., Wang, Y., Gino, F., & Norton, M.I. (2013). Rituals Enhance Consumption. Psychological Science, 24, 1714-1721.

Wardle. J., & Solomons, W. (1994). Naughty but Nice: A Laboratory Study of Health Information and Food Preferences in a Community Sample. Health Psychology, 13, 180-183.

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