How is Fast Food Like An Attractive Woman?


The simple answer is that, much as viewing images of attractive women made men impatient, looking at logos of fast food restaurants caused an increase in impatient behavior.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that simply viewing fast food symbols caused measurable increases in “impatience,” including increasing reading speed and the subjects preferring a quick return when evaluating investments:

Based on recent advancements in the behavioral priming literature, three experiments investigated how incidental exposure to fast food can induce impatient behaviors and choices outside of the eating domain. We found that even an unconscious exposure to fast-food symbols can automatically increase participants’ reading speed when they are under no time pressure and that thinking about fast food increases preferences for time-saving products while there are potentially many other product dimensions to consider. More strikingly, we found that mere exposure to fast-food symbols reduced people’s willingness to save and led them to prefer immediate gain over greater future return, ultimately harming their economic interest. Thus, the way people eat has far-reaching (often unconscious) influences on behaviors and choices unrelated to eating. [Abstract of You Are How You Eat – Fast Food and Impatience by Chen-Bo Zhong and Sanford E. DeVoe and published in Psychological Science.]

From a neuromarketing standpoint, one of the more significant findings in the study was that priming subjects with fast food symbols caused them to be more attracted to products that saved time, like a toaster with more slots or a one-step shampoo/conditioner.

Unlike the impatience induced in men by viewing pictures of attractive women, the fast food effect appears to apply to women as well.

Would a prominent KFC coupon help sell your new time-saving appliance? Perhaps. I know that if I was selling long-term investments, I definitely wouldn’t take the client to lunch at McDonalds. And I also know I need to keep this post short, because I’ve already primed my readers to be impatient!

  1. Ramiro Roman says

    Thanks Roger!

    I see this is a by-product of good ol’ fashion branding. Successful fast food companies have done such a great job at influencing us that we associate their logos/brands with exactly the triggers they planned. Brilliant from a marketing perspective!
    Ramiro Roman

    1. Roger Dooley says

      You are likely right, Ramiro. The subjects in the experiments clearly associate these images with “fast.” No doubt it explains why I get steamed if service is slow when I make a rare visit to McDonald’s. I’ve been primed for impatience by many elements of the environment, ratcheting up my frustration when the line doesn’t move with lightning speed!


  2. ianglang says

    I couldn’t wait to leave this comment. 🙂

    Roger, you’re right about going in and getting annoyed when service doesn’t meet expectations.

    Signage, employee conduct, service levels, food quality, stacking order, lighting, etc ..[branding] –they’re all specifically designed to make people feel more satisfied at the end by enjoying their fast food ‘solution’ to the impatience.

    Oh wait! They created that impatience problem for you. How devious. “Why not just come in and we’ll make you feel better?”

    Did you know Subway’s initiatives have the customer in, served, paid and out the door or to their seat inside of 90 seconds?

    In the end though, isn’t it all just a well engineered Pavlovian response?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I guess if you are selling fast food, it makes sense to deliver on what you promise. I avoided one McDonald’s outlet for years because they seemed incapable of delivering food in their drive-through without forcing you to pull ahead and wait for it to be brought out to your car. Eventually, they sorted out their problems and began offering service more characteristic of the chain’s speedy image.

      Most chains have a big digital clock at their drive through workstation (viewable by the worker) showing how many seconds the customer being served has been waiting.


  3. Scott Lovingood says

    It would be very easy to test the assumption that Fast Food symbols help to sell time saving devices.

    Work with Amazon to put some McDs, Burger King Coupons on top of a sales page that features time saving devices.

    If it worked they could get a two for one impact. Sell advertising to the fast food chains and increase their conversion of time saving devices.

    Not a bad way to go ya know.


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