Trying to lose weight? Turning off the television and paying closer attention to the sound of your own chewing and crunching may help you reach your goal.
Researchers at Brigham Young University and Colorado State University have just published a study in the journal Food Quality and Preference concluding that people are more likely to consume less when they are aware of the sound their food makes as they eat. They call it the “Crunch Effect.”
The researchers conducted a series of three experiments examining what is known as “food sound salience”—the sounds we make when we eat—to see how they affect consumption.
"For the most part, consumers and researchers have overlooked food sound as an important sensory cue in the eating experience," study co-author Gina Mohr, an assistant professor of marketing at CSU, said in a press statement.
The researchers conducted the experiments on groups of undergraduate students—about two-thirds male, on average—ranging in size from 71 to 182 participants.
In one experiment, participants ate pretzels while wearing headphones that played either loud white noise or quiet white noise. Those listening to the loud white noise ate slightly more than four pretzels on average as compared to the 2.75 pretzels eaten by participants listening to softer sounds.
In another experiment, participants were given Famous Amos mini cookies (which are famously crunchy). One group was told to eat them as loudly as they could, another was instructed to eat them as quietly as possible, and a third control group was told to eat normally. This time, both the loud and quiet eaters consumed less than the control group: an average of 2.61 cookies compared to the 3.38 average of the control group. The researchers concluded that simply making participants more conscious of how loudly they ate the cookies led to eating less.
In a third experiment, researchers noted that just having participants read a marketing description of pita chips that emphasized their sound—crunchy, crispy—resulted in significantly less consumption compared with participants who read a description emphasizing taste: an average of 4.79 compared to 5.86.
Mealtime activities like watching television and listening to loud music can drown out the sound of eating, causing people to consume more than they otherwise would, according to co-author Ryan Elder, an assistant professor of marketing at BYU’s Marriott School of Management.
There’s already a significant body of research about how visual cues influence consumption. For example, a heap of chicken bones on your plate could serve as a visual reminder of how much you’ve eaten. So, too, might making one out of every few chips red in a tube of Pringles to signal when you’ve consumed a single portion.
Similarly, the taste and texture of food are powerful sensory cues that can influence how much we eat. But much less is known about auditory cues.
“We’re proposing that sound operates in a similar manner,” Elder tells mental_floss. “When I hear the sound [of my eating], it’s reminding me that I am eating something. This reminder of sound brings greater attention and mindfulness to what I’m eating and that ultimately reduces consumption.”
This phenomenon is different from ambient food sounds, like listening to eggs frying or your uncle across the table at Thanksgiving loudly smacking his mashed potatoes and gravy. In fact, the sounds of other people eating can trigger a disgust reaction sometimes called misophonia (and yes, possibly cause you to lose your appetite). Mindful eating is something quite distinct—and potentially powerful if applied to regulating the amount you eat.
“Is this more significant than a visual monitoring cue? We don’t know, but it’s another tool someone could utilize in controlling consumption,” says Elder.