Having a glut of Happy Meals in your neighborhood might actually be what's making you sad, according to a Canadian study that measured the effects of exposure to fast food symbols on people's ability to savor pleasurable experiences, reports Discover.
It turns out that just living near fast food restaurants is enough to limit your joy in life, regardless of whether you actually eat the food.
In particular, the study found (from self-reports on a survey) that those who live in a neighborhood with a high proportion of fast food restaurants glean less appreciation from looking at photos of natural beauty and report negative responses when listening to aesthetic melodies.
"Study 1 found that the concentration of fast-food restaurants in individuals’ neighborhoods predicted their tendencies to savor. Study 2 revealed that exposure to fast-food primes impeded participants’ ability to derive happiness from pictures of natural beauty. Study 3 showed that priming fast food undermined positive emotional responses to a beautiful melody by inducing greater impatience, measured by both subjective perception of time passage and self-reports of impatience experienced during the music," wrote the study's researchers.
Researchers chose a section of "The Flower Duet" from the opera Lakmé in the musical portion of the study. Subjects living nearer fast food restaurants claimed the opera melody felt like it droned on for longer. If you're not familiar with the piece, you can listen to a version of the famous melody here.
Of course, we already know that fast food is bad for the health of our bodies. For instance, it has been linked to the obesity epidemic, and has been shown to harm cardiovascular health. But this study is the first indication that fast food can also indirectly harm our minds and emotional well being. The symbols of the industry-- such as those golden arches, smells of the deep fryer, and neon drive thru signs-- can deliver secondhand psychological trauma, even for those who choose not to eat the food.
"[This research shows] that as pervasive symbols of impatience, fast food can inhibit savoring, producing negative consequences for how we experience pleasurable events," concluded the researchers.
The study could also raise concerns about how fast food restaurants advertise. Should symbols that harm our ability to develop a cultured sense of aesthetic be allowed to broadcast at all? The American Academy of Pediatrics have already gotten behind a fast food advertising ban.
At the very least, the research certainly gives you something to think about before moving into a new neighborhood.
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