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Fast Food and Impatience

Fast food can make people impatient.

Can I take your order please?
Let's eat to the beat
A pizza hut a pizza hut
Kentucky fried chicken and a pizza hut
A pizza hut a pizza hut
Kentucky fried chicken and a pizza hut
McDonalds McDonalds
Kentucky fried chicken and a pizza hut
McDonalds McDonalds
Kentucky fried chicken and a pizza hut
You like it you love it
You know you really want it

- Eric Dikeb (1980)

Most of us know that fast food is not all that healthy, even if we can't resist it. A recent paper by Chen-Bo Zhong and Sanford E. DeVoe (2010) shows yet another downside of fast food - this one psychological. According to these researchers, even the subliminal reminder of fast food can make people impatient!

Three experiments with college students were conducted. In the first experiment, researchers flashed ever so briefly (below conscious thresholds) on a computer screen the logos of well-known fast food franchises ((McDonald's, KFC, Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Wendy's) while research participants worked on another task. A comparison group did the same task without the fast food logos appearing. Then all participants were asked to read a brief passage. Although there was no time pressure or time limit mentioned, the "fast food" participants read more quickly. That in and of itself may not be bad. The researchers did not measure recall or enjoyment of the passage.

But consider the other experiments described.

In the second experiment, participants were asked to remember either the last time they ate fast food or the last time they went grocery shopping, Then all completed an ostensibly unrelated marketing survey. Exposure to fast food reminders led participants to express a preference for time-saving products.

And in the third experiment, participants were asked to rate the aesthetic appeal of different corporate logos, some of fast food franchises and some not. Exposure to fast food reminders reduced the willingness of participants to delay gratification at a later task.

The researchers concluded their report by noting the apparent irony of their findings: Fast food, which supposedly helps us save time in one domain of life, leads us to be time urgent - impatient - in other domains of life. What's the point of saving time if we don't use it to savor what makes life worth living?

As W. H. Auden wrote, "Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience - Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return."


Zhong, C-B., & DeVoe, S. E. (2010). You are how you eat: Fast food and impatience. Psychological Science.