The Music Playing While You Order Could Affect What You Eat

Music volume can affect whether we choose healthy or unhealthy foods, according to a new study. iStock

Music can affect our brains in fascinating ways. Various studies have suggested, for example, that songs which feature fast beats may improve our workouts and that our favorite tracks can have a profound affect on our mood.

And music can even have an influence over what kind of food we order in restaurants or buy in supermarkets, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences.

The authors found that the volume of ambient music can have an observable effect on whether consumers opt for healthier or unhealthier foods—a phenomenon that stems from the fact that music volume has a direct impact on our heart rate and state of arousal, they say.

For the study, Dipayan Biswas, a professor of marketing at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business, and his colleagues, conducted and experiment at a café in Stockholm, Sweden, in which they played various genres of music on a loop at two different volumes—55 and 70 decibels—over the course of several days. Food items on the menu were categorized as healthy, non-healthy or neutral (for products such as coffee or tea.)

The findings showed that while the louder music was playing, 52% of customers ordered something unhealthy compared to 42% when the quieter music was playing. Similarly, the proportion of customers who bought healthy items was higher during the quieter times.

The researchers say this is because softer music has a calming effect, making us more mindful of what food we buy or order, which typically leads to people ordering healthier options, such as salad. Louder environments can increase stimulation and stress, which often leads to diners choosing unhealthier options, such as a burger.

"Restaurants and supermarkets can use ambient music strategically to influence consumer buying behavior," Biswas, said in a statement.

The new paper is the first to specifically examine how music volume can influence healthy vs. unhealthy food choices. Previous studies in this area have tended to look at how ambient factors such as music, lighting, scent and décor can affect food sales.

Other research, meanwhile, has shown that music and other sounds can even affect our sense of taste—or at least what we think we taste—when we're eating.