Our taste is an amazing sense, and one that is far more influenced by factors beyond our physiology than we may realize. There was a fascinating study published in the Journal of Consumer Research that took a look at the psychology of taste. It turns out that what we believe and what we value can play a major role in how we taste our food. There were several interesting experiments in the study but two of them really caught my attention:
1. The Pepsi/Coke Challenge – In this experiment participants were given 2 different soft drinks to sample, one Pepsi and the other Coca Cola. The participants are actually lied to about what they are really drinking, and it turns out that most people who saw themselves as playful and fun-loving, preferred the flavor of the beverage they believed was Pepsi, even when it was in fact, Coca Cola. Keep in mind that Pepsi ads and commercials are known for presenting and emphasizing the playful side of life. In this situation, the participants clearly allowed their value system to be the dominant judge of a flavor preference.
2. The Sausage Challenge – I found this one pretty amazing. Some participants were told they were eating real beef sausage rolls when actually they were enjoying a vegetarian alternative that tasted much the same. Then they were told they were eating the vegetarian alternative when actually they were eating the beef. As an adjunct to this taste test, the same group was asked to complete a questionnaire that accessed to what extent they sought to dominate others socially as well as acquire resources, wealth, and public recognition. The results showed that those who were low on social power values preferred the taste of the vegetarian sausage roll, regardless of whether they’d actually tasted the beef or the veggie alternative. Those high on social power, however, found the beef more flavorful, even when it was just the veggie option labeled as beef.
There was also an experiment where people thought that full fat yogurt tasted better than low fat yogurt, even when what they ate was actually the same product.
The human mind and psyche are very powerful indeed . . . with a crazy appetite as well.