In fo’ snacking

Once upon a time, and I kiddest thou not because I have credible links for this, Webster’s New World College Dictionary claimed their 2005 Word of the Year as ‘infosnacking‘. It is essentially sneaking time at work (I presume) to dawdle on the Internet. Granted, it’s been met with some skepticism or at least a cocked eyebrow à la Dwayne Johnson, particularly by Fark.com founder Drew Curtis in his book on the news media (language in link NSFW). Also credit should go to Fark user ‘Cyberlost’ for the idea for this week’s blog title. A quick Googling would tell you that ‘infosnacking’ still pops up from time to time, but I don’t think it generated a lot of buzz since then.

The reason I spent 150+ words explaining the title is 1) I’m not that good of a writer and 2) this week’s Featured Article has to do with something rather like infosnacking – namely snacking while we’re consuming information. See, we live in a time where we’re often ‘media multitasking’ (using Kononova et al.‘s wording here), and that’s exactly what it sounds like: we’re consuming more than one kind of media at a time. Don’t believe me? You’ll know the next time you’re faffing around the internet (usually on your phone) while you’re watching a movie you’re most likely streaming.

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Public Domain (Author: stokpic, 2014)

I know I did that – I spent the World Cup (congratulations to France by the way) watching every game while posting comments on a forum. But as I mentioned in another post, people aren’t really ‘multitasking,’ it’s really more like really fast task-switching. After all, you’re really only paying attention to one thing at a time, no matter how many things you’re ‘doing’ at the same time. In the case of this week’s Featured Article, snacking is one of those tasks. Following up largely from a study by Shiv and Fedorikhin from about 20 years ago, Kononova et al. wanted to look into the choices people make when they’re media multitasking. In particular, they wanted to study whether people chose healthy snacks or…well, not healthy.

I thought this was a rather interesting study to look into since it all comes down to attention – are you aware of your snacking habits when you’re really immersed in some content you’re getting out of the web? Maybe science.casual (thank you for spending time here, though, I really mean that)? You might binge-watch your favorite programs, maybe even a book or a video game, and before you know it, you’ve polished off that bowl of popcorn? Or M&M’s? Or potato chips? Or that pint of ice cream? Why do I sound like the break-up scene of a romantic comedy?

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Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain (Author: Oscar Gustave Rejlander, 1872)

Kononova et al. reason that this may explain the positive relationship between media use and consumption of high-calorie food and drink as observed in quite a few studies. However, they introduce another possible contributor to it all: emotions. They mention a study in which eating behavior can be influenced by whether or not you’re engaged in whatever TV you’re watching. So what if your choice in snacks isn’t just because you’re multitasking, but you’re actually feeling good about it?

The authors selected 140 subjects from a university in the American Midwest and put them in 4 conditions containing some combination of the following:

  • Watching TV (an episode of Two-and-a-Half Men, recommended by a survey they carried out)
  • Texting (with a research assistant asking about participants’ experiences and preferences, but not about food or drinks of course)
  • Reading a Wikipedia article (specifically this one, since it was the least relevant to the subjects’ majors)
  • Shopping on Amazon (for ping-pong balls – I wonder if this is some kind of commentary on the college experience…)

After 15 minutes, a plate of food would be served. These contained carrots, tomatoes, almonds, Pringles, M&Ms (almond, though?), and ‘sugar candy.’ Looking at the picture from the Featured Article, p. 5, they look like candy orange slices. These foods were also selected during a pre-survey carried out by the authors and determined as ‘healthy’ or not by their NuVal scores. The researchers looked at what each subject ate, how much, what activity/ies they were doing, and how calm/excited or un/happy each subject was in their activity/ies. Variables abound! We’ll get through the data, I promise.

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Public Domain (Author: familybaader, 2012)

So what did they find? First, we need to deal with the fact that there are four conditions: TV only, which is the baseline, TV + textingTV + texting + Wikipedia articleTV + texting + Amazon shopping. Also, 33 of the participants didn’t snack at all. Anyway, subjects were less likely to pick up healthy snacks in the TV + texting + Wikipedia condition than in any other, and it didn’t matter which unhealthy (low NuVal) snack it was. However, the subjects were more likely to pick junk food over healthy in all conditions anyway, and there were no differences in the amount of junk food, either. Also note, dear reader, that they also tested the subjects’ enjoyment of their experience, and the statistics show that the TV + texting + Wikipedia condition was rated the most negative across all conditions, with the TV only condition being the most enjoyable. Putting all of the statistics together (here you go, stats wonks – that’s what happens you have a lot of variables), Kononova et al. conclude that “(T)he more pleasant participants reported the media situation was, the more healthful snacks they ate in grams during media use or media multitasking.” Whether or not they were excited by it, on the other hand, wasn’t statistically significant.

The authors pointed out a few things along with their discussion: for one thing, they noted the participants who didn’t snack at all. Perhaps they exerted more control over their snacking because they knew they were being observed? And what about being busy – doesn’t that mean your hands are too busy to fish for a snack? They did mention that there wasn’t significant differences between the TV only and the other conditions in terms of amount of food eaten, raw numbers alone showed that the TV only conditions did eat more food. Or is it the fact that they could TV and snack that they were happy?

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Public Domain (Author: Clker-Free-Vector-Images, 2014)

That’s the thing about research – every answer yields several questions, each question the basis of a new study, a new investigation, maybe even a new paper. Someone’s thesis, someone’s dissertation, someone’s book, for all you know. And that means a lot of time behind a monitor, possibly snacking. Hopefully it’s a pleasant one, lest the bowl of M&M’s should suddenly disappear, so now you have to deal with a deadline and indigestion. Small wonder why I have coffee while I’m blogging – wait, hold on; THIS IS MY FOURTH CUP!? FOURTH!?!?

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Public Domain (Author: PublicDomainPictures, 2013)

Thoughts? Comments? Let me know in the space below, and you don’t need to be a WordPress member to do it! I’d especially like to hear about what you like to snack on when you’re at work, surfing the internet, and so forth (like do you have have a go-to snack for that?). If you’re not doing so already, please follow and thanks again for stopping by.

Featured Article: Kononova A, McAlister A, Oh HJ. (2018). Screen overload: Pleasant multitasking with screen devices leads to the choice of healthful over less healthful snacks when compared with unpleasant multitasking. Computers in Human Behavior 80: 1-11. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.10.042

Featured Image: Public Domain (Author: Ulrike Mai, 2014)

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