Study: Fast-food logos make you impatient

Researchers find even subliminal exposure can cause people to feel pressed for time and more likely to buy things

Published April 19, 2010 4:40PM (EDT)

As it turns out, those jitters you feel after eating a McDonald's hamburger may not just be the contents of your meal eating away at your insides -- it's your brain getting stressed out. As the Daily Mail reported today, a study by researchers at the University of Toronto (which will be published in the journal Psychological Science) has found that exposure to fast-food symbols -- including the logos of McDonald's, KFC, Subway and Taco Bell -- make people both less likely to save money and more likely to feel like they're running out of time.

The study was conducted by exposing students to nearly imperceptible flashes of images (for 12 to 80 milliseconds) that included, in some cases, fast-food logos. The students were then asked to read text and choose between two different kinds of skin-care treatments -- a three-in-one or a separate cleanser. As it turns out, the subliminal exposure to fast-food marketing caused the students to read "significantly faster" and made them more likely to choose the more time-saving product.

The researchers concluded "fast food, originally designed to save time, can have the unexpected consequence of inducing haste and impatience" and "preference for time-saving products when there are potentially other important aspects upon which to choose a product." So, basically, driving past a McDonald's on the highway has the potential to not only make you drive faster, it will make you more likely to buy two-for-one Pantene Pro-V Shampoo and Conditioner the next time you go to Duane Reade. One, it seems, is considerably less ominous than the other.

Although the study's sample is remarkably small (57 students), and there are probably a number of factors that would result in the preference for combined skin-care products (like past experience), its results aren't exactly surprising. Anybody who's spent time in a fast-food business, watching meals get churned out at a hyper-fast rate, has probably felt a twinge of impatience once they leave. And for an example of how time spent surrounded by hyper-convenience can alter people's expectations in ridiculous ways, just spend time talking to a New Yorker about, well, anything.

By Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is Salon's former Arts Editor. He has written for the Globe & Mail, the Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at @thomasmaxrogers.

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