It’s science, and it’s official — taking pictures of your food before consuming it really does make it taste better.

A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Marketing found that the time spent photographing your food, applying your favourite filters and carefully curating your hashtags creates a “momentary active delay in consumption”, which heightens your appreciation of the meal when you finally eat it.

The catch is that “under normal conditions, this effect only works for indulgent food”, so you probably can’t trick your palate into thinking a sausage roll from the servo is fine dining just by putting it under a Valencia filter.

How does that work, exactly?

The research consisted of three studies with more than 120 participants taking part in each. In the first study, participants were given one of four tasks — take a picture of indulgent food before eating it; don’t take a picture of indulgent food before eating it; take a picture of healthy food before eating it; or don’t take a picture of healthy food before eating it.

The study found that those who took pictures of the ‘indulgent’ food (red velvet cake) found it to be more pleasurable than those who didn’t; but there was no significant different in taste for those made to photograph (or not photograph) the healthy food (a fruit salad).

In the second study, all the participants were given the same red velvet cake — but some were told it was indulgent, while others were told it was healthy. Perhaps surprisingly, the participants who thought their cake was made with overly rich ingredients enjoyed it more than the participants who thought it was good for them.

The third study offered a glimmer of hope, however, because it showed you can eliminate the “perceived difference between healthy and indulgent foods” with some positive reinforcement from your social media community.

Once participants were made aware that other people were also eating healthy food, taking a picture of the healthy food before eating it did lead to participants enjoying their meal more.

Essentially, the more acai bowls you see on Instagram, and the more ‘likes’ you think you’re going to get for eating one yourself, the more you will actually like that acai bowl. (And who doesn’t like looking at acai bowls on Instagram, really?)

But what if I refuse to use Instagram?

If you truly hate Instagram and all it stands for, but you still want to artificially enhance your appreciation of your food, you’re in luck — there are other options available to you.

In 2013, a study published in the Psychological Science journal found that delaying eating by performing any sort of ritual, no matter how mundane, positively influences our enjoyment of our food.

That study gave one set of participants a chocolate bar with strict instructions on how to handle and unwrap it, while another set of participants were given the same set of chocolate bars and allowed to eat them however they liked. The ones that were made to follow the ritual and delay the consumption of the bar ended up appreciating it more, and said they were willing to pay more for another one than those who were left to their own devices.

You might be thinking it was just the delayed gratification that made the first group like the chocolate bars more, but the researchers thought of that, too — and they found that randomly delaying consumption didn’t have the same effect on appreciation as making people follow repeated, episodic and fixed behaviours.

In other words, it was the ritual that was important, not the mere act of waiting.

If you regularly Instagram your food, you know that it’s probably accurate to call that a ‘repeated, episodic and fixed behaviour’. Of course, you could say the same thing about, for instance, saying ‘grace’ before your meal.

Oh, and since chocolate bars are an ‘indulgent’ food, the 2013 study doesn’t necessarily conflict with the more recent study that found none of this makes a bit of difference if you don’t find the food appetising to begin with.

What does this all mean?

In short, it means that not only are your friends who insist on taking the perfect photograph of their meal before you can start eating incredibly annoying, but they’re also enjoying their meal more than you.

If you want to level the playing field, it’s time to get busy ‘grammin’ — or finding some other, even more convoluted ritual you can annoy people with before you chow down.

[Via New York Magazine

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