Before we get started, let's try something: Take a deep breath and clear your thoughts. Whatever anxiety you're feeling, whatever stressors you have, try to put them out of your mind. Close your eyes and clean your slate. And then, when you're in a state of utter calm, open those eyes back up and have a look at the McDonald's logo pictured above.
What do you feel?
Do you get hungry? Do you feel calm? Does your stomach churn with a Pavlovian response of a meal coming? Do you feel sick because of a recent bad experience while dining at the Golden Arches? Do you feel anxious, or are you at peace with the world?
Logos, like the iconic McDonald's one above, elicit responses in us all. That's, frankly, why they're around in the first place. Companies want them to be visual shortcuts for our brains, bringing about feelings simply because our eyes happen to run across them. Ideally, they want those responses to be positive in nature, but sometimes things get spoiled. (Take a look at what happened to the swastika, for example.) Which is what's apparently happened with fast food logos.
A new study, published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal with the on-the-nose title "Too Impatient To Smell the Roses," tried to answer the question of whether or not logos affect a person's ability to experience happiness. Spoiler: They most certainly do.
In one test, half of the participants were given photos of foods (coffee, burgers, French fries) that were placed in standard ceramic plates and cups, while the other half were given the same items placed in "standard McDonald's packaging." Half of each group was then asked to rate their happiness, while the other halves of each group were given ten photos of beautiful nature scenes and asked to rate their happiness after that. The results of this complicated survey:
Overall, those who looked at the nature photos reported higher levels of happiness. But among that group, those who had seen the fast-food logos reported feeling significantly less happy than those who had seen the generic food photos.
In other words: Fast food logos cause people to be unhappy!
A second test, this one even more complicated, dealt with how logos affect a person's anxiety. This started the same -- with participants being given photos of food on standard and McDonald's packaging -- but were then asked to listen to an 86-second piece of "beautiful music," specifically the Flower Duet from the famed opera "Lakme." Here, take a listen. It's great and calming and soothing, right? Which is exactly what the people who saw photos with the standardly packaged food felt. But those who got stuck with the McDonald's logo?
[R]eported feeling more impatient for the (exquisitely beautiful) number to end so they could complete the survey. Consistent with this finding, they also felt the music "had lasted for a longer time," the researchers report. "This suggests that participants primed with fast food experienced the same period of time as passing more slowly."
Obviously, there's a whole lot of implications with these findings. Fast food logos have been so long associated with a certain style of living -- quick-paced, on the move, hustling through bustling city streets on the way to work -- that it's beginning to affect the deep recesses of our subconscious even when we're not experiencing that rush. The whole thing's kind of like children who experience a traumatic event in their youth having panic attacks as adults if they come across a particular color or image associated with said trauma.
That is what's basically happening to all of us. And the trauma we're all collectively dealing with? Fast food.
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