A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science reports that people make poorer food choices in noisier environments and healthier dining choices in quieter ones.
Lead study author Dipayan Biswas, professor in the Marketing Department of the University of South Florida Muma College of Business, wrote that this phenomenon stems from the fact that noise or music volume directly affects the physiological responses (e.g., blood pressure levels and heart rate) and neurochemical changes (e.g., stress levels) in our bodies.
“Music has an effect on our physiological system,” he told Today Food. “You are more likely to start dancing with loud music. [A] higher excitement level translates to choosing unhealthier foods.”
“Restaurants and supermarkets can use ambient music strategically to influence consumer buying behavior,” explained Biswas. Even short exposure to music can induce measurable cardiovascular and respiratory effects, with slower rhythms promoting a more relaxed effect, which can lead to more mindfulness and acuity—particularly when it comes to food.
There were two parts of the study: one in a restaurant and the other in a Swedish supermarket. They found that shoppers bought more junk food and red meat upon exposure to high-volume music (70 decibels) and purchased more produce upon exposure to quieter music (55 decibels).
The authors concluded that their findings may provide regulators with nonrestrictive means of curbing unhealthy food consumption: “Unlike restrictive regulatory policies, a sensory cue like ambient music can be more effective in the long run given the nonrestrictive nature of such a cue and also due to the fact that sensory cues would influence behaviors in subliminal and unconscious ways," they say.
Or perhaps those supermarkets who have positioned themselves for health and wellness could accomplish more by just choosing their background music a little smarter to help their customers choose their foods a little better.