One of the visual codes for engrossing television is viewers sitting frozen with their spoons of ice cream half-way to their mouths. It seems like a great show might make you stop eating because you concentrate. Turns out that great television actually makes you eat more because you concentrate.

In a one-time survey, 120 people came in to a scientist's lab and were told to eat snacks and watch their favorite television on Netflix (they were actually given the option of either television or gaming, but as the gamers provided unremarkable results, we'll focus on the TV-watchers).


First the researchers tried to determine whether or not each participant was the type of person to be immersed in a show. Participants answered questions on an "Immersive Tendencies Questionnaire" that included "do you ever get so involved in a television program or book that people have trouble getting your attention," and "have you ever remained apprehensive or fearful long after watching a scary movie?" After they watched their television program of choice (and the researchers stress that only two programs, Ace of Cakes and No Reservations, were about food) while snacking on an array of foods and beverages, they were asked to complete another questionnaire. This one was about how much they were "transported" by the program.

In the end, the tendency of a person to become immersed in a program made no real difference to how much they ate. What upped their caloric intake was how much they were "transported by" the program. The more involved they were in the narrative, the more they ate. This seems counter-intuitive. If you are immersed in a program, aren't you supposed to be glued to the screen, unmoving, hanging on every word? The problem, the researchers think, was not that people were distracted from the TV, it was that they were distracted from the food. If you're concentrating only on potato chips, you'll eventually feel either full, or satisfied with the taste. In order to be sated, you have to be aware that you're eating. If you're concentrating on the plot twists, you're no longer concentrating on the food. You don't remember tasting the potato chip. You're not aware of the lingering sweetness of the chocolate. So you keep eating.

What helps people stop eating while still being engrossed in their entertainment? Well, videogame players tended to eat less that TV watchers. Scientists speculated that this was simply because their hands were busy. Keep your hands busy while you watch, and maybe you'll snack less.


[Via The Better the Story, the Bigger the Serving]