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Fast food, fast everything

Pepe Bustamante tucks a newspaper under his arm and heads for the golden arches, thinking about an Egg McMuffin.

Pepe Bustamante tucks a newspaper under his arm and heads for the golden arches, thinking about an Egg McMuffin.

The restaurant owner says the need for speed is precisely what brings him to this McDonald’s around 10 a.m. He has errands to run and no time for a leisurely breakfast: “I just come here because it’s fast, that’s all.”

But according to new research from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, the very sight of the McDonald’s logo might make him hurry up.

When people are exposed to fast-food logos, even momentarily, they’re reminded of the need to save time, says Chen-Bo Zhong, a professor of organizational behaviour and the paper’s co-author. In three experiments, participants were found to be more impatient and hasty after seeing logos such as McDonald’s, Subway, KFC or Wendy’s.

“It’s the goals that you associate with these symbols,” says Zhong. “They really are a very prevalent part of our culture that (remind us) we need to be time-efficient, we need to be able to save time.”

In one experiment, conducted for an upcoming edition of the journal Psychological Science, participants exposed to quick flashes of fast-food logos read faster than those who were not. In another, participants who had been asked to think about eating in a fast-food restaurant picked time-saving items, such as four-slice toasters, 2-in-1 shampoo and high-efficiency detergent, over more traditional versions of the same items.

In a third, people exposed to the logos were more impatient with money than those who had not, opting to receive a $3 payment immediately instead of more in a week.

Zhong says fast food may have helped create our efficiency-obsessed culture, but it is also a product of a world where everyone is in a hurry.