Many of us know the feeling: We get depressed or anxious and the first thing we want to do is pig out. As noted on Motherboard a few weeks ago with regard to sugary drinks (and drinks with synthetic sugar), reaching for something sweet and feeling depressed may be something of a vicious cycle.
But scary, depressing news about the economy, specifically, could make us more inclined to grab a Big Mac. This, according to a new study published in Psychological Science: People consume more high-calorie foods when they’re hit with messages that undermine their sense of economic well-being—nearly 40 percent more.
To test their hypothesis, researchers at the University of Miami School of Business Administration set up what they told subjects was a "taste test." In one test, subjects were asked to sample a bowl of M&Ms that experimenters falsely told them were made with a special “high-calorie” chocolate. A separate group was given a bowl they believed was filled with special “low-calorie” M&Ms. About six feet away and directly within the subject’s line of site, experimenters hung posters that contained either neutral or negative economic messages, in hopes of subconsciously influencing the tasters’ feeling of financial well-being (negative posters were loaded with words like “survival,” “withstand,” “persistence,” “shortfall,” “struggle,” and “adversity”).
Participants were told to eat until they were done, then fill out a form evaluating how the M&Ms tasted. In the neutral scenario, tasters of the ostensibly “high-calorie” M&Ms ate a little less than those sampling the "low-calorie" version. But, when primed with negative economic messages, consumption of the “high-calorie M&Ms” shot up by about 38 percent.
Conversely, those who believed they were sampling “low-calorie” M&Ms actually ate 28 percent less when exposed to the negative messaging.