Study: If you want to eat right, turn down your loud music

If you want to eat a healthy lunch today in the office, turn down the volume on your music. That death metal blaring in your headphones is going to make snacking on candy more tempting. According to a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciencethe volume of the music around us can influence our eating choices.

Study: Loud music leads to unhealthy eating choices

Background noise has the power to manipulate our moods. Anyone who has been stuck next to a coworker blasting loud music knows this. Researchers at the University of South Florida Muma College of Business in Tampa wanted to test if music could be a manipulating force for good.

To test this, researchers played soft and loud music in the background of a cafe in Sweden. They played a mix of pop, rock, jazz, blues, soul music over two days of observing customers. The researchers found that the type of music did not matter, but the volume at which it was heard did. When the cafe played softer music at 55 decibels, customers chose healthier items like salads and wraps 10% more often than when they heard music at 70 decibels.

Fun music leads to less mindfulness

Why does loud music cause us to make unhealthy eating choices? It excites us too much, and when we are excited we are less likely to eat mindfully with intention. The researchers found that louder music makes us feel more aroused and excited, while softer music induces relaxation. Excitement kicks off a biological response in us to seek high-energy, fatty foods. “When emotionally charged or upset, internal restraints and self-control break down, leading to greater consumption of unhealthy foods,” the study notes, citing previous research. “Research with both humans and animals suggests that unhealthy/comfort foods can alleviate physiological stress responses.”

Turning off the music completely is not the answer either, however. In a different experiment, researchers found that individuals who did not listen to music made unhealthy choices at a similar rate to people who listened to loud music. Turns out, we need that extra boost of enhanced relaxation we get from soft background music to choose the fruit cup over the chocolate cake.

In general, being more mindful of what triggers your snacking binges helps you unlearn bad habits. In this way, listening to lowered music can be a low-cost intervention into healthier eating. It doesn’t cost expensive visits to a nutritionist to lower the volume of the music in your headphones.  “Unlike restrictive regulatory policies, a sensory cue, like ambient music, can be more effective in the long run,” the study states.