Van der Wal & van Dillen (2013) emphasize that people in modern Western societies devote less and less attention to their meals. This fact is supported by reports that have shown that we eat about half of our meals in front of a television.
When we watch television and eat food simultaneously (multitasking), it reduces taste perception, research shows.
People tend to eat more while watching TV and listening to music, and food is experienced as less intense when there is a background noise. This is due to the fact that our attention has a limited capacity. Therefore, when we pay attention to another activity (e.g, watching tv) while eating, less attention is paid to eating itself.
As a result, multitasking reduces taste perception by reducing attention, and since taste perception is reduced, we tend to increase food consumption so that we get an optimal (enough) taste experience.
The same effects are true for pain experiences: Self-reports have shown that we experience painful stimuli as less painful if we are cognitively engaged because we pay attention to others things than the painful stimuli (van der Wal & van Dillen, 2013).
A new study by Wal & van Dillen (2013) shows that multitasking (task load) reduces the perception of sour, sweet and salty substances. Therefore, the effect of multitasking is true for both aversive (sour) tastants and pleasant (sweet and salty) tastants.
The authors also found that a reduction in taste perception leads to an increase in food consumption. The participants consumed more salty and sweet substances under high task loads compared to low ones.
Multitasking may therefore contribute to overeating since we tend to eat more salty and sweet foods when we do not pay full attention to our meals. In closing, driving car, watching TV or working while eating may attenuate taste perception and contribute to unhealthy eating behaviors.
Pay attention to your meals.