New research into our eating habits produces one of the most baffling mysteries of human behavior we’ve seen in a long time: Apparently music affects your menu choices, at least when dining out. In a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, restaurant patrons were exposed to music styles alternating between classical and hard rock, and with volumes adjusted anywhere from an ambient background to a distracting roar. And what they found was that diners subjected to a sonic assault tended to choose less healthy eating choices.
Now the first thing some readers might respond with is the old “correlation does not equal causation” chestnut. And they may be right: The kind of patrons likely to exist entirely on cheeseburgers and beer would be more attracted to a bar-like dive blasting heavy metal out into the street, while the discerning, civilized patron is more likely to chose some classical music to accompany their antipasto salad and probiotic beverage. For that matter, who wants to yell an order for salad and fruit over loud rock when you can just point to the #5?
But even in a more controlled environment, they tried over seventy college students on a simple choice: chocolate cake or a bowl of seasonal fruit. And the students exposed to quieter music chose the fruit, the ones exposed to loud music chose the cake, and the ones exposed to no music at all picked a 50/50 split.
Previous studies on music’s affect on dining choices have shown that louder music makes people order more alcohol, or at least more pop and sugary drinks even in the non-alcoholic crowd. But this could just be the science behind a business practice that nightclub owners have known for years: Blast the music, and customers get tired of trying to have a conversation over it and just drink in oppressed solitude.
Overall, the results seem to indicate that louder, harder music is more exciting, so it makes patrons throw caution to the wind and order the fattening stuff, while less exciting music makes people calm down and think harder about the long-term consequences of their choices.