Distraction kills pleasure and drives overindulgence

Eating and watching television can lead to overindulgence - Newsreel
New research shows that being distracted while eating leaves you wanting more. | Photo: EvgenlyShkolenko (iStock)

Distraction is a pleasure killer and leads to overindulgence, according to new research by the American Psychological Association.

Study author Stephen Murphy from Ghent University said when people were distracted while engaged in activities they enjoyed, such as eating something they liked, the pleasure was reduced.

“That may lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and drive more consumption to compensate for that shortfall,” he said.

“On any given day, a person may take great pleasure from one or more of these activities, yet people often consume more hedonic goods than they want or than is good for them.”

The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, involved 122 participants (mostly female and mostly between the ages of 18 and 24) who reported on how much they expected to enjoy their lunch before eating it.

“They were then asked to eat their lunch under one of three conditions: no distraction, moderate distraction (watching a video), and high distraction (playing Tetris),” the study report said.

“After lunch, participants reported on their actual enjoyment, satisfaction, desire for further gratification and amount consumed. They also reported on their snacking later in the day.”

The outcomes suggested that participants who ate while distracted had lower enjoyment and satisfaction and were likely to snack more later in the day.

This desire for “hedonic compensation” was believed to apply beyond eating.

“For example, people who are distracted while watching a movie or playing a game may be more likely to engage in additional consumption (e.g., checking social media) to compensate for a diminished enjoyment of the original activity,” the study said.

Dr Murphy said overconsumption often resulted from a lack of self-control.

“However, our findings suggest overconsumption may also often be driven by the simple human desire to reach a certain level of enjoyment from an activity,” he said. “When distraction gets in the way, it’s likely we may try to compensate by consuming more.”

More details on the American Psychological Association website