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Researchers have announced an intriguing discovery – consumers generally prefer Artificial Intelligence (AI)-generated images of food over real food images, especially when they are unaware of their true nature. The new findings have been published in Food Quality and Preference.

A real (left) and AI-generated (right) image of a chocolate dessert topped with whipped cream, used in the research study.

According to the researchers, the results suggest that Artificial Intelligence (AI) -generated food visuals excel at enhancing the appeal of depicted foods by leveraging key features such as symmetry, shape, glossiness, and overall lighting and colour. All of these are known to contribute significantly to the attractiveness of food imagery.

Even subtle tweaks in positioning may enhance the appeal of AI-generated food images. Lead author Giovanbattista Califano (University of Naples Federico II) explained: ‘As humans, we tend to feel uneasy with objects pointing towards us, interpreting them as threats, even when it’s just food. When tasked with replicating food photos featuring items pointing at the viewer, such as a bunch of carrots or a piece of cake, the AI often positions the food so that it doesn’t directly point at the viewer. This warrants further studies, but it's plausible that this approach enhances the perceived attractiveness of the depicted food.’

Study supervisor and co-author Professor Charles Spence (Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford) said: ‘While AI-generated visuals may offer cost-saving opportunities for marketers and the industry by reducing the cost of commissioning food photoshoots, these findings highlight potential risks associated with exacerbating “visual hunger” amongst consumers—the phenomenon where viewing images of food triggers appetite and cravings. This could potentially influence unhealthy eating behaviours or foster unrealistic expectations about food among consumers.’


Read the full story on the University of Oxford website.