ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

We've all been there. You're sitting in the movie theater watching a high-octane, action blockbuster and in an uncharacteristic moment of silence your ears are greeted by what sounds like a herd of wildebeest masticating polystyrene.

In reality, it is simply the cinematic congregation around you devouring their various over-priced buckets of movie-watching comestibles. Then as you look down into your own bucket - which you've expertly clamped between your knees - you realize that you too have drained your snack-pack and you're not even 15 minutes into the film. You feel conned, ashamed and still really, really hungry.

Why is this? Well, a new study has been conducted which attempts to find out why we graze like farm animals when placed in front of a movie. In particular, the study, conducted by Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, also wanted to see if different types of films or shows affect how much food we try to throw down our gullets.

The Experiment

The lead researcher of the project, Aner Tal, states he got the idea for the project after witnessing his own filmic food intake. In a LA Times article, he states:

It's something I noticed in myself. When I go to the cinema and watch a movie I'm really engrossed in, my popcorn will go from full to empty without me realizing it. But if it is a movie I'm less into, I pay more attention to what I'm eating.

Researchers are already aware that we eat more then viewing something, but up to this point little research has been done to see if the type of content we view also has an effect.

To study this, Tal and his team recruited 94 undergraduates and divided them up into three groups. One would watch 20 minutes of Michael Bay's 2005 action film, The Island, a second group would watch 20 minutes of the same film but with the sound off, while the final group would watch 20 minutes of the PBS talk show, Charlie Rose.

All the volunteers were given copious amounts of treats, including M&Ms, cookies, grapes and carrots with which they were free to guzzle down. Check out a typical scene from The Island below:

The Results

So, what happened? As you could probably guess there was an unambiguous correlation between the action content of a film and the amount of food consumed. Those who watched The Island with the sound on ate 98% more food and 65% more calories than those which watched Charlie Rose. Those who watched the film with the sound off also ate more. They shoveled in 36% more food and 46% more calories than the Charlie Rose group.

The report couldn't explain for certain why the Michael Bay watchers ate more. However, they did hypothesize that it could be related to the amount of camera cuts in a particular film or television show. The Island on average, contained 24.7 camera cuts per minute, while The Charlie Rose Show only contained 4.8 cuts per minute. This fast pacing could be what causes watchers of action blockbusters to eat more food. Tal continued:

One thing we are going to do as a follow-up is to nail down more precisely what the factors behind these effects are. Right now we have several suspects -- pacing is one, but level of engagement is the primary suspect.

Some Cinematic Food Tips

Tal also offered some useful tips on how you can use this information to manipulate or control your own eating habits.

Leave the junk in another room, you'll soon forget it

If you want to avoid eating unhealthy snacks, simply leave them in another room. We only feel inclined to graze on food when it is actually in reach. It's fairly self-explanatory, but Tal explains:

Mindless eating occurs when snacks are right there. Keep them in the kitchen, and then it won't all disappear without you realizing it.

Beware of the effect in bars and restaurants

Tal also suggests you should be aware that watching TV in bars and restaurants, even with the sound off, could also cause you to overeat. He adds:

People still ate more watching The Island without the sound on than watching Charlie Rose. That tells us that it might be the visuals that are affecting the eating.

Use the effect to fool your kids into eating their veg

These results could be useful in forcing yourself, or others, to eat healthy food. If a bowl of vegetables is available during an action film, chances are they will be eaten.

One thing we noticed is people eating without paying attention will eat anything. If you don't really like broccoli but you don't hate it, this could be a good way for you to get your daily dose of vegetables.

Watch more mentally engaging television

Finally, and perhaps most straightforwardly, if you want to eat less crappy food, simply watch less action movies and watch thins which keep you engrossed in a more cerebral sense. Tal concludes:

You'll eat less and you will get more intelligent television.


What do you think of eating in the cinema?

Source: LA Times


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