In a University of Cologne study recently published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers fed half of the 96 total participants popcorn during a movie and a preceding series of advertisements. The other half were given a small sugar cube that dissolved on their tongues.
A week later, both groups' reactions to the ads were assessed. The sugar cube group demonstrated a preference for the advertised products over novel ones and showed positive physiological responses of familiarity. However, the popcorn group showed no such responses or preferences. Their opinions about the advertised products had not changed.
A University of Cologne press release provides a possible explanation. Repetition of information increases the ease with which information is perceived, a reason repetition is a central tenet of advertising. But there may be even more to it:
Each time we encounter a person's or product name, the lips and the tongue automatically simulate the pronunciation of that name. This happens covertly, that is, without our awareness and without actual mouth movements. During inner speech, the brain attempts to utter the novel name. When names are presented repeatedly, this articulation simulation is trained and thus runs more easily for repeated compared to novel names.
If this inner speech is disturbed, the study suggests, the repetition effect is neutralized. Disruption can come in the form of chewing gum, whispering another word or, you guessed it, eating popcorn.
"The mundane activity of eating popcorn made participants immune to the pervasive effects of advertising," said one of the study's author, Sascha Topolinski, according to The Guardian. "This finding suggests that selling candy in cinemas actually undermines advertising effects, which contradicts present marketing strategies."