Newspaper article

When Restaurant Music Is Loud, Diners Are More Likely to Order Unhealthful Foods, Study Suggests

Newspaper article

When Restaurant Music Is Loud, Diners Are More Likely to Order Unhealthful Foods, Study Suggests

Article excerpt

If you’re trying to follow a healthier diet and/or lose weight, you may want to avoid noisy restaurants when you eat out.

According to a recent study, the volume of background music played in a restaurant affects the types of food people order. The louder the music, the more likely people are to opt for greasy, calorie-laden cheeseburgers and fries rather than salads.

Plenty of other studies have shown that ambient music can influence people’s perceptions of food. Researchers have reported, for example, that people rate the bitterness or sweetness of foods — or even the quality of a wine — differently, depending on the type of music playing in the background while they’re making those evaluations.

But this new study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences, is apparently the first one examine how the volume of background music impacts the in-the-moment choices people make between healthy and unhealthy foods.

Study details

For the study, a team of American and Swedish researchers, led by Dipayan Biswas, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida, conducted a series of experiments. Some were done in a controlled laboratory setting; others were done “in the field” (in a restaurant).

In one of the experiments, conducted over several days in a café in Sweden, various genres of music were played in a continuous loop at either 55 decibels (similar to the noise made by two people having a conversation at home) or at 70 decibels (similar to the noise made by a vacuum cleaner). The experiment revealed that orders of unhealthy food were 20 percent higher when the background music was at the higher decibel level.

Specifically, when the café’s music was loud, 52 percent of the orders placed by its patrons were for unhealthful foods, compared to 42 percent when the volume was low. Fewer people also selected healthful foods when the noise level was high — 25 percent compared to 32 percent when the music was quieter. (Some of the food was deemed “neutral” in terms of healthfulness.)

In another of the experiments — this time conducted in a lab — 97 students were presented with a choice of chocolate cake or fruit salad while listening to classical piano music played at either 70 decibels or at 50 decibels. …

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