This Site Has Moved

I moved the blog some time ago to Please join in the discussion over there!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

McDonald's Tastes Better

According to three to five year olds

Researchers ordered some food from McDonald's - chicken nuggets, hamburgers, fries, carrots, and milk - and fed it to the preschoolers. The catch was that each preschooler received two meals, one containing a chicken nugget, a part of a hamburger, some fries, a couple carrot sticks, and some milk all packaged in McDonald's wrappers and the exact same meal packaged in plain wrappers. Note that all of the food came from McDonald's, the only difference was the wrapping. And the findings:

For example, 76 per cent favoured the fries presented in the branded packaging, compared with 13 per cent who liked the unbranded fries better. And while 60 per cent of the children preferred the McDonalds-branded chicken nuggets, only 10 per cent favoured the nuggets presented in plain wrapping.

These findings really illustrate what many of us already know: the mind controls the body. McDonald's advertising does an excellent job of convincing people that the food is high quality and delicious. I've read studies before that showed that younger children have trouble even distinguishing advertising from regular programming and their trusting nature makes them more likely to believe hyperbolic claims. The children even preferred McDonald's branded carrots over the non-branded carrots.

I've seen a similar instance of the "mind thing" before in a college job as a server at Red Lobster. Most people know that calamari is squid. But I recall more than one occasion where a family came in and ordered some fried calamari (delicious morsels!), which the kids had never had nor knew of. None of us would tell them what it was until they tried it. The general consensus was that it was delicious. Then when we told them it was squid, it suddenly ceased to taste good. Their minds had convinced them that it was repulsive while their taste buds were slapping their eyes silly from the deliciousness.

The mind-body connection is probably how people manage to keep eating foods that make them feel horrible (see: donuts, Twinkies, Ring Dings, etc), or to eat foods that are supposedly healthful but that actually damage health. Because we believe something is healthful or makes us feel good, the mind allows us to ignore the problems that those foods cause.

And here's more good reason to turn off the TV:
The study also found that children in homes with more televisions were more likely to show a preference for the branded meal, suggesting that fast-food commercials exert a strong influence.
Experts have estimated that the food and beverage industries spend more than $10 billion each year to market products to US children.

More TV time equals more advertisements viewed, which gives more time for an influence to be exerted. The industry is spending quantities of money that no parent can hope to overcome to make kids say "I want!" Unfortunately, more and more of us turn over our, and our children's, entertainment to the talking picture box.

My wife mentioned one possible confounding factor though: familiarity. Humans are naturally reluctant to try unfamiliar things, so perhaps the children are just gravitating towards the name they know versus the unknown factor.