What we have here is yet another instance of scientists claiming to have done something they did not do. In this case, they said they measured “exposure” to fast food, and they developed great wads of theory to explain this exposure. Yet never once was exposure measured. This is what I have elsewhere called the epidemiologist fallacy, a combination of the ecological fallacy and the “If we didn’t commit the ecological fallacy, then we couldn’t do anything” fallacy.
In Social Psychological and Personality Science Julian House and two others published “Too Impatient to Smell the Roses: Exposure to Fast Food Impedes Happiness” which asked whether “exposure to the ultimate symbols of an impatience culture—fast food—undermines people’s ability to experience happiness from savoring pleasurable experiences.”
Guess what they said.
Well, this: “eating involves food preparation and communal dinning, making it a collective, ritualistic event where communities bond rather than merely intake nutrition.” Who knew?
In one of their intensive studies, House discovered “that the concentration of fast-food restaurants in individuals’ neighborhoods predicted their tendencies to savor.” Some 280 folks were recruited on-line and paid a buck to fill in a questionnaire—excuse me, a validated instrument. This is a scientific term meaning “questionnaire.”
The specific questionnaire was “the positive emotion portion of the Emotion Regulation Profile-Revised” which measures people’s “tendencies to savor” and also to “dampen…emotional responses to enjoyable experiences”. One question was (I could only find the questions in French), “Vous laissez tous vos sens s’imprégner de l’endroit afin de savourer pleinement cet instant” which, roughly translated, is “You like to soak up the moment.” Now how can a question like that not be scientific?
The participants also entered their home zip codes, from which “the number of establishments listed under the North American Industry Classification System code for fast-food restaurants” was divided “by the number of full-service restaurants” in that zip code. Because, obviously, people have no choice but to go to these establishments in their own zip code districts.
Turns out that the fast-food ratio was statistically associated with answers on the savoring questionnaire, but negatively (a small correlation coefficient). A wee p-value confirmed this statistical relationship.
The authors labeled this result an “intriguing relationship”. They also authoritatively state “The essence of fast food is not what you eat (e.g., tacos, pizza, etc.), but how you eat it.” A chicken wing is equivalent to a garden salad if you eat it with a plastic fork, apparently.
More science from the conclusion: “undermining people’s ability to derive pleasure from everyday joys could exert a significant long-term negative effect on people’s experienced happiness.” Also: “we find that the exposure to fast-food symbols reduced people’s tendency to savor”.
Now that is a strange thing to say considering that the authors did not measure exposure to fast-food “symbols,” or to exposure to fast-food in any form. But, hey, if we required scientists to actually do what they say they do, then nothing would ever get done. Science would slow to a crawl and we wouldn’t have published so many intriguing results and theories.
Thanks to the Carolina Cowboy for alerting us to this study. Note to that gentleman: every email I try to send you bounces back.