In recent years, ambient odors have become an important tool that businesses use to attract customers and influence their behavior. For example, food companies and restaurants, use the smell of delicious food to tempt people into their establishments.
The authors of the current study wanted to understand, in more detail, how food-related ambient scents can affect your food choices. In particular, they focused on how these aromas influence your selection of healthful vs. unhealthful foods.
Food Odors: How They Influence What You Choose To Eat
Researchers at the University of South Florida ran a series of experiments in which people were exposed to the scent of either a healthful food, such as an apple, or an unhealthful food, such as pizza.
First, people who were exposed to an aroma of unhealthful food for 30 seconds or less were more likely to choose unhealthful food options — this is no surprise.
Surprisingly, however, individuals exposed to the aroma of an unhealthful food for 2 minutes or longer were more likely to make a healthful food choice.
Pizza: The Affect Of Smell On Your Food Choices
The first experiment took place at a school cafeteria used by 900 children. In each day of the three day study, students were exposed to one of three conditions: a control condition with no scent, a pizza aroma, or an aroma of apples.
For the apple aroma; 37% of the food items sold were unhealthy. On the control day, 36% of the items sold were unhealthy. No statistical difference.
But on pizza day, only 21% of the students bought unhealthy snacks.
Once again, those exposed to the aroma of the unhealthy food chose the health food option.
In Phase 3, some participants were exposed either to a cookie or a strawberry aroma for less than 2 minutes. Other volunteers were exposed for longer than 2 minutes.
Results showed that those who smelled cookies for more than 2 minutes were likelier to choose a health food. And those who had smelled cookies for under 2 minutes were more likely to chose the unhealthy food. Timing is crucial.
Overall, these findings give a fascinating and potentially useful insight into food cravings and how to minimize them.