How do Instagram photos affect our dietary preferences?

  • Jessica Brown
  • BBC Future

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Every now and then you come across dish descriptions and photos of you salivating on social media – but how much can this affect our true eating habits and preferences? Are they changing because of the images on Instagram?

Many of us have the luxury of being selective, to a greater or lesser degree. When you open the fridge or browse the supermarket shelves, you see many options in front of you. We think we decide for ourselves whether to eat this or that … But is that really so? Does it affect us other than personal tastes and degree of hunger?

Take a look at Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and photos of perfectly prepared and served dishes will appear one after the other. Everyone knows about the powerful effect of the taste and smell of food. But do visual images of snacks and other steamed foods have the same power?

Of course, our choice of what to eat is influenced by other people, especially those close to us. As the study showed, the closer and stronger the relationship, the more important their impact.

“The influence of the signals received in the direct communication process depends on who we are dealing with,” says Solveig Argeseanu, study author and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, USA. “It’s important how we relate to a particular person. If we find him attractive and popular, then we tend to take an example from him.

The example of a stranger can encourage us to eat more or lead us to a healthy diet, Argeseanu’s work confirms.

Our eating habits are also influenced by visual images. The flowing fried meat, egg yolk and melted mozzarella look delicious.

Photographer, Jeffrey Greenberg / Getty Images

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Social media is dominated by images of sweet and fatty foods

“There is a lot of evidence that the sight of food can stimulate the appetite,” said Susan Higgs, a professor of psychology at the University of Birmingham. Of course, whether an action follows a desire depends on many factors, most notably the availability of food at this time.

Social media is where visual and social elements merge. If your online friends regularly post about a particular food, you are likely to try it sooner or later – for better or for worse. Research shows that social media influences our perception of food.

“If everyone you know posted pictures of themselves eating fast food, you would start to see it as a rule,” says Susan Higgs.

According to a study by Ethan Penser, professor of marketing at St. Louis University. Mary’s in Halifax, Canada, people tend to like the images of fast food and fatty foods more. They are more conducive to the release of dopamine, a hormone that activates the pleasure centers of the brain.

This is a legacy of evolution – after all, our eternally hungry distant ancestors were looking for high-calorie food.

“Evolutionary psychology teaches that we are glad to see such food,” says Professor Penser.

Healthy food is often considered mild and boring compared to processed foods, says Tina Tessitore, a marketing professor at a business school in Lille, France.

“Snack ads are presented in a favorable environment – for example, through the image of friends grilling – and advertisements for healthy foods are not focused on pleasure, but on benefit. If you show people a company that eats salad with appetite “I will not believe it”, observes Tina Tesitore.

The impact of social media on eating habits worries scientists. Networks are designed to deliver first and foremost the content that is in demand, that is, the more people who view snack photos, the more they will be displayed, says Professor Penser.

“There is an inverse relationship. Content producers rely on the viewport to stay competitive and when people see more unhealthy food, they develop a taste for it,” he explains.

One study found that children and teens watch food ads on social media between 30 and 189 times a week, mostly for fast food and sugary drinks.

These are not just orders from the food industry – with the help of the Internet, we all influence each other’s preferences.

Photographer, Don Arnold / Getty Images

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By posting photos and videos about food on social media, some people make good money from it.

“When it comes to advertising, manufacturers who push their product come to mind, but influencers can do the same,” says Patricia Cavazos, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington in St. Louis. Louis Graduate School of Medicine. the understanding of social rules and what is good and right “.

This becomes dangerous, Kavazos rings the alarm bell. “Some of us are less affected, but more receptive, those at risk, content that presents unhealthy eating habits as a rule can push further in that direction,” he said.

It is a fact that social networks change the perception of food and most of the time promote unhealthy foods. But it is not known how much this affects our actual behavior.

“I can enjoy seeing photos of delicious dishes on Instagram, but whether I rush to look for them immediately depends on how hungry I am and if this is the right time for it,” notes Susan Higgs.

It is not only the Internet that influences our choice. “Deciding what and how much to eat, we go through many factors of mutual influence and it is difficult to assess the strength of each of them,” says Susan Higgs.

Photographer, Getty Images

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Making you fall in love with healthy food with the help of Instagram is not a trivial task

Among these factors are the level of knowledge about the usefulness of different foods, our ideas for the ideal figure, the ability to cook and the price of products.

Researchers are studying the impact of social media on diet, but there are many things in real life that do not explain it, says Higgs: [факторы]”.

The degree of influence of social networks depends on the individual, agrees Melissa Atkinson, professor of psychology at the British University of Bath: “There are many individual differences in how we react to the images contained in them.”

It depends on the psychological and biological characteristics. In some people, the ability to experience the pleasure of the sight of food is more developed than in others, so it does not matter exactly where they see it.

But even in the absence of clear answers, researchers are looking for ways to make a positive impact on social media.

Tina Tessitore performed an interesting experiment. He created two identical Twitter accounts, one with 23 followers and the other with more than 400,000. I posted a completely identical tweet promoting healthy eating in both, showed it to different groups of people and conducted a survey.

Bottom line: among those who read the same text on a more popular page, there were many more people who wanted to eat a salad right away.

Photographer, Fiona Goodall / Getty Images

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Images on the Internet are an important, but not the only factor that influences food choices.

Other people’s influence on us depends on how much influence we find on them, Tessitore concludes. By reading the text or looking at the image, we almost automatically note the number of followers of this page.

But so far, it seems rather problematic to distract people from a piece of appetizing meat with the help of pictures of a salad.

“In this case, you have to fight thousands of years of evolution,” says Professor Penser. “We have evolved into lovers of high-calorie foods, and that was natural in poverty. But today, eating what is pleasant is not always right.”

According to his research, if we subject our emotions to critical analysis, that is, if we explain to people that the pleasure of seeing a burger with potatoes is programmed by evolution or some other reason, then the enjoyment is diminished.

Penser and his assistants asked a group of people to watch two videos, one with high-calorie food and one with low-calorie. Almost everyone said they had more fun the first time.

The participants were then divided into two groups. Some were told that their brain’s pleasure centers would be affected by inaudible, inaudible sound in the human ear, while others repeated the experiment unchanged. After that, people from the first group said they did not feel the difference between the types of food.

In any case, if we leave social networks and return to reality, we will find that in the real world there are factors that are more powerful than the virtual one.

“I tend to believe that face-to-face interaction has a greater impact on our eating habits,” Solveig tells Argeseanu. “When we look at photos, we become less addicted and the charm does not last long. Look at many of them, saturation begins.”

At least if you limit yourself to just admiring delicious dishes on Instagram, you will not have to untie your pants belt.

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