Does music affect meal duration and food intake?

Different emotion-arousing music does not affect food consumption but both listening to English songs and unfamiliar background music leads to longer meal times, according to a study published this March in Psychology of Music. The findings may be beneficial for helping to promote or decrease food intake in many clinical and non-clinical settings.

Music has been shown to influence the intake of food and fluid. It can do this by affecting and regulating mood states and increasing arousal by changing physiological responses (e.g. by increasing heart rate). For instance, a number of factors have been shown to have a higher arousing potential: loud music, music with vocals, the familiarity of the music.

Research has also shown that background noises or music influence eating behavior. For example, slow tempo music in a restaurant results in customers staying longer and consuming more beverages, while loud music is associated with increased soft drink and alcohol consumption.

The mode of music transmission (e.g. through the use of headphones) might also play a role when looking at the influence of music on eating behavior.

The study, led by Daniela Kaiser of the University of Hohenheim, investigated the influence of music and transmission mode on food intake and meal duration. 147 participants in Germany were divided into one of five lunch groups. Five conditions were compared: eating in silence (control condition), eating while listening to instrumental Music background music via loudspeakers, eating while listening to instrumental background music via headphones, eating while listening to pop songs with English vocals and eating while listening to pop songs with German vocals.

The results showed no association between listening to songs with different emotion-arousing potential and the amount of food consumed. However, the study found longer meal durations when people listened to English music and unfamiliar background music via headphones than while listening to familiar German pop songs (although this just failed to reach significance). No differences were found for transmission mode.

The researchers concluded, “Unconscious effects of auditory stimuli should not be underestimated when looking at potential influencing factors that impact people’s food intake given that, on one hand, the majority of people tend to eat too much but on the other hand, specific population groups such as the institutionalized elderly also tend to eat too little.”

Therefore, finding new ways to promote or decrease food intake can be beneficial in many clinical and non-clinical settings.