Looking at images depicting food from your smartphone causes satiety. So says research from Aarhus University, published in Appetite.

The Internet is overflowing with images of food, from news sites, to social media, to banner ads appearing everywhere. Many food images are uploaded to sell specific foods. The idea is that food figures on Facebook or Instagram will awaken our hunger. Repeated visual delivery of the same product can, however, generate the opposite effect.

“In our experiments, we showed that when participants saw the same image of food thirty times, they felt fuller than before they had seen the image,” explained Tjark Andersen, who recently completed his Ph.D. at Aarhus University’s Department of Food Science.

“Participants who were shown the image several times also chose a smaller portion than those who had seen the image only three times, when we subsequently asked for the portion size they wanted,” Andersen said. “It may seem strange that the participants felt full without having eaten anything, but it’s actually quite natural,” Andersen explained, “the way we think about food has a big influence on our appetite.

“Appetite is more closely related to cognitive perception than most of us think; the way we think about food is very important,” Andersen said. To test whether food variation completely eliminates satiety, Andersen and his colleagues designed a series of online experiments. In the end, they involved more than 1,000 people in their digital experiments. First, they showed an image of just M&Ms, colorful, orange chocolates. Some participants were shown the image three times, others 30 times. The group that saw the most images of M&Ms felt more satiated afterward. “They had to answer how many M&Ms they wanted, between 1 and 10. The group that had seen 30 images of orange chocolate buttons chose a smaller amount than the other two groups,” Andersen explained.

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