60-Second Science

Lighting and Music Reduce Fast-Food Meal Size

Patrons in part of a fast-food restaurant that had a fine-dining atmosphere consumed almost a fifth fewer calories per meal than those in the regular section. Steve Mirsky reports

In lab tests, music and lighting can affect how much people eat. Now a study has found that changing the ambiance of a fast food restaurant to more of a fine-dining atmosphere lessened the amount of food people crammed into their pie holes. To quote the paper, “softening the lighting and music led people to eat less, to rate the food as more enjoyable, and to spend just as much.”

That last finding means that fast food joints, which are accused of contributing to the obesity epidemic, might actually try it. The study was led by well-known eating behaviorist Brian Wansink from Cornell University and appears in the journal Psychological Reports. [Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum, Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music Can Reduce Calorie Intake and Increase Satisfaction]

The researchers converted part of a Hardee’s so that it had soft lighting and slow jazz instrumentals. The patrons were expected to possibly eat more in the relaxed section, because they’d linger, maybe get dessert. But they actually averaged 18 percent fewer calories per meal than the folks in the rowdy section—down from an average of 949 calories to 775. The overall experience appears to have been a more satisfying meal. Even if there was less of it.

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[And here's a 2007 audio interview with Brian Wansink.]

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