The Real Reason You Can't Look Away From Gross Food Hacks

Have you ever heard of the expression of "so horrible, I couldn't look away"? It's not just encountering unfortunate accidents in the workaday world. With bizarre, outlandish, and sometimes quite frankly revolting "food hack" videos appearing everywhere from TikTok to Facebook, we have to ask ourselves: Just what sort of deep psychological urge compels us to keep coming back to look? If a video of Janelle Flom preparing a "Spaghetti-O's pie" (posted on Facebook) is so gross, why did it pull in 41 million views?

Eater connected these gross video food hacks to a group of people all connecting back to magician and very prolific Facebook entertainer Rick Lax. Among Lax's published videos are street magic, prank videos, and of course, "food hacks." In an interview with Refinery29, the entertainer explained that the reason his "cooking" videos are so popular is simply due to their unique style. ""[Viewers] ... like that our videos don't look like anyone else's," Lax explains, adding that the videos are made out of a spirit of entertainment and aren't meant to be taken seriously. If anything, even if they aren't exactly top-notch cooking videos, they do fuel a good reaction, as Lax said in his interview with Eater: "We are creating good videos. When I say 'good videos,' I mean videos that perform well on social media." 

Why can't we stop?

If these videos are posted all in the name of good, if gross, fun, why can't we stop watching? What makes these types of videos so popular? The answer may be rooted in basic psychology.

According to Dr. Rosanna Guadagno of Stanford University (via Refinery29), the uncomfortable aspect of these videos is just what draws people in. "Negative emotions spread more broadly than positive emotions, provided they're more active emotions, like anger and disgust," says Dr. Guadagno, whose book "Psychological Processes In Social Media: Why We Click" is scheduled for publication next year. "So it does not surprise me at all that this type of video would go viral." The psychologist compared it to an accident, where the viewer cannot look away, despite being so revolted by it. 

Dr. Guadagno's theory is backed by a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Jonah Berger. Dr. Berger explains that the shocking content of these videos works in their favor, inspiring a sort of morbid curiosity in its viewers. "Shocking stuff grabs our attention," Dr. Berger says. "We want to find out if a hack actually works, or whether something that seems gross is actually as gross as we think it is." Dr. Berger went on to add that, just as Dr. Guadagno suggested, the intense emotions we feel, disgust and curiosity, helps us to encourage others watching the videos and sharing them. You may not like Rick Lax's cooking "tips", but rest assured, they're popular — one way or another.