Study Shows That AI Images of Food Look Tastier Than Real Food Photos

A person takes a photo of food.

The uncanny valley’s hungry cousin is coming for food photography, it seems. A recent study found people view AI-generated images of food more appealing.

The study, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, looked at how well participants could identify whether images of food were AI-generated as well as how appealing they found those images. To do this, those involved looked at both real and AI-generated pictures of food, providing feedback on what they thought was real and what looked best. Or, as the study put it, “Two online experiments were conducted with real and AI-generated food images stretching across the unprocessed, processed, and ultra-processed food continuum.”

What stood out was the fact the AI-generated ones seemed to win out in terms of appeal. However, this is only true if the AI generation was undisclosed. Knowing AI created the food they were viewing reportedly mitigated the effect.

That brings up the question of how well the study found people to detect AI generation: pretty well, actually. This was especially true the more processed the picture was and is a massive jump from the poor detection results another study recently found when looking at human faces.

In addition to the disclosure an image was AI-generated mitigating the increased appeal, “disclosing that a food image was genuine significantly boosted its appeal,” according to the study.

“The findings reported here reveal an intricate picture concerning the way in which consumers discern and react to such images, highlighting several facets of AI’s role in shaping consumer perception,” the study noted. “Looking to the future, the study opens up several avenues for future research. For instance, one might consider conducting similar studies on comfort foods, where the emotional connection with food might influence the consumer acceptance of digitally generated content.”

And there is still a great deal to learn. While AI-generated images may already start to feel commonplace for stuff, the technology is still incredibly new. And the results of this study could soon become obsolete as models progress and improve at a rapid rate.

Interestingly, the study warned against the use of AI-generated food images, saying “there is a potential risk of exacerbating ‘visual hunger,’ which could influence unhealthy eating behaviors or create unrealistic expectations about food among consumers.”

“These insights help to understand consumer psychology in the rapidly-evolving digital food marketing landscape,” the study read, “highlighting the nuanced effects of technological advancements in AI image-generation on human perception.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.