He and co-author Jeff Larson studied how an explosion of food pictures affects the eating experience by asking 232 people to look at and rate pictures of food. Half the participants viewed 60 pictures of sweets such as cake, truffles and chocolate, and the other half saw images of salty foods chips, pretzels and french fries.
Afterward, participants were asked to eat salty peanuts and rank how much they enjoyed them. The people who had seen the salty-food pictures reported less enjoyment. Even though they hadn't actually seen pictures of peanuts, the researchers said, they were satiated by the sensory experience of saltiness from the photos.
Elder and Larson published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Psychology
"If you want to enjoy your food consumption experience, avoid looking at too many pictures of food," Larson said in a statement. "Even I felt a little sick to my stomach during the study after looking at all the sweet pictures we had."
The concept could work the other way, too. If you have a weakness for desserts, going on a binge of sweet pictures could make you steer clear. The effect, though, seems to depend on seeing a large number of pictures.
"It's not like if you look at something two or three times, you'll get that satiated effect," Elder said.
And Instagramming your dinner might not be all bad. Another study out of the University of Minnesota and Harvard Business School, published in August, found that performing certain rituals before eating can make you enjoy the food more, because it prompts greater involvement in the experience.