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Research: Seeing Fast-Food Signs Can Change Your Behavior

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: We all know that fast-food restaurants like McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC don't exactly serve meals that are optimal for our kids' health. But new research shows that even if people don't consume the fast food, the sight of fast-food signs can change their behavior! 

In three separate Canadian studies, the very sight of fast-food logos made people speed up and make hasty decisions. In one study from the University of Toronto, a glance at a flashcard showing the McDonald's logo made people read faster.

The theory behind these findings is this: When people are even momentarily exposed to images related to fast food -- such as corporate logos -- it reminds their brain that they need to save time and hurry up, so they act on that urge. One study asked participants to think about fast-food logos, and it changed the way they shopped -- causing them to forgo traditional products and opt for timesaving items like four-slice toasters and 2-in-1 shampoos.

Obviously, some of our slowpoke kids who prefer to dawdle could use images that make them more efficient. However, the researchers caution that being hasty can affect the quality of the activity; for instance, people who read fast may not be comprehending better or having the same level of emotional experience as those who take time with a book. And if you couple this fast-food effect with exposure to technology (with its instantaneous world of e-mail, texts and Twitter), it seems that adolescents would be better off learning how to slow down and process fully to make calculated decisions. In one study, people exposed to fast-food logos made an error with money, opting to accept a low payment quickly rather than waiting for a higher payment one week later.

So, my mother was right: "Patience is a virtue." And when I next look to purchase a family home, I'll survey the neighborhood for fast-food signs even if I never feed the stuff to my kids.

Photo by Tony the Misfit via Flickr


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