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Fast food was invented to help us keep up with our fast-paced world. But it’s also had some unintended psychological consequences and can influence our choices in situations that don’t have anything to do with food.

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Fast food was invented to help us keep up with our fast-paced world. But it’s also had some unintended psychological consequences. By putting us in a hurried mindset, fast food can make us more impatient and not just in the drive-through line.

It can influence our choices in situations that don’t have anything to do with food. And the weirdest thing is, it can alter your behavior even if you're not eating it. Just the fact that it's out there can change your brain unless you know how to counteract its effects.

Now, to psychologists, impatience isn’t just... not having any patience. We become impatient when we have a goal, but we find out it’s going to cost us more time or effort than we originally thought to reach it. And that’s not always a bad thing.

Impatience can motivate us to act, either to switch goals, or to remove obstacles to them like, if you’re stuck in surprise traffic and need to find a new way home. But it can also cause us to act impulsively and irrationally. So maybe, instead of finding a new route, you might start honking at the cars in front of you.

Overall, this side of impatience can make us agitated and less happy. And fast food can be part of the problem. Psychologists and other researchers have discovered three big ways our instant nuggets and dollar tacos are intensifying our impatience.

The first involves a phenomenon called behavioral priming. This happens when exposure to a stimulus influences a person’s behavior, often on a subconscious level. Researchers tested this effect in a 2010 study published in Psychological Science.

They primed participants by flashing fast food logos from restaurants like McDonalds and KFC on a screen for 12 milliseconds. That’s eight times faster than the blink of an eye and faster than subjects’ brains could consciously register the images. Still, the researchers found that this unconscious exposure to fast food symbols ramped up participants’ reading speeds by 17 percent, even though the reading test was untimed.

And a different experiment from that study found similar results. So, just thinking about fast food made people more likely to speed up! Another study found that fast food also heightens our impatience by making it harder for us to stop and smell the roses… or the french fries, I guess.

In 2013, researchers looked into whether fast food makes people so impatient that they’re less able to savor life. They gave participants a survey that assessed their ability to savor experiences. Then, they calculated the ratio of fast food restaurants to full-service restaurants in each participant’s neighborhood.

They found that people who lived in areas with high concentrations of fast food were less likely to savor their experiences. And while more research needs to be done on why, the research team hypothesized that it’s the… well, fast part of fast food. That reminder about hyper-efficiency may keep us from slowing down to appreciate experiences — which might indirectly affect our happiness, too.

Finally, it turns out that this impatience might not just have an effect on our emotional well-being, but maybe also our finances. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2013, researchers investigated whether fast food made people more financially impatient. Essentially, that means people lost the patience to save money for a rainy day.

And in this study, they did! The paper found that the more fast food restaurants a person was surrounded by, the less likely they were to save money. Again, they didn’t even need to eat the food!

Just standing in front of a fast food joint elevated people’s financial impatience. Scientists found that people outside these eateries are more likely to accept a smaller gift card in the moment rather than receive a larger gift card later. And although this study didn’t specifically control for income, others have and the effect still holds.

Researchers believe this is because fast food restaurants serve as a subconscious prime that influences our behavior. Fast food is all about saving time, so just being exposed to it could up our impatience levels and our desire to choose immediate rewards. But good news — just because fast food is everywhere doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of checking the clock.

Studies suggest that we can enhance our patience just by imagining a future outcome. This is due to the framing effect, which happens when our decisions are influenced by the way information is presented. Like, in a 2017 study, scientists tested how people’s patience levels changed if a question was framed as a single either-or decision or as a sequence of choices and consequences.

That’s called sequence framing. So, when participants were asked whether they wanted to get either $100 that day or wait 30 days for $120, they were more likely to choose taking the money immediately. But when participants were asked whether they’d rather have “$100 tomorrow and $0 in 30 days” or “$0 tomorrow and $120 in 30 days“… they were more likely to choose the delayed payment.

That’s because the sequence framing in the second scenario helped participants imagine all of the choices and consequences what it would be like at every step in the timeline. And that made them more patient for the positive outcome. So, of all things, imagination may be our best weapon against impatience … especially of the fast food variety.

Now, sometimes our impatience can be for a good reason:. Often, we just don’t have a lot of extra time! And that can be true when it comes to learning things, too.

That’s the motivation behind the app Blinkist. It takes the best insights from more than 3000 non-fiction books and condenses them into 15 minutes of material you can read or listen to. Their library covers all kinds of topics, from psychology to health and history.

If you’re interested in how our minds work and like a good story, you might specifically be interested in The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. It follows the author’s journey to become a poker champion, partly using her background in psychology. If you want to try it out, the first hundred people to go to will get unlimited access for a week.

And if they want the full membership, they’ll also get 25% off. To learn more and sign-up for a free trial, click the link in the description. And if you learn something cool, let us know! [♩OUTRO].