Previous research that has manipulated either the color of, or labeling information associated with, foods and beverages has shown that each of these factors can significantly influence perceptual and preferential responses to them. The present study examined how the simultaneous manipulation of these two cues (color and label) affects perception of, and hedonic responses to, flavor. Thirty participants rated 12 chocolate M&Ms (identical aside from their color), described as coming from a “new line of chocolate products,” for the intensity of their chocolate flavors (“chocolatey-ness”) and their hedonic qualities (“likeability”). In the color-only condition, sighted participants received two green and two brown M&Ms. In the label-only condition, blindfolded participants received two M&Ms that were labeled as being from a “milk chocolate category” and two M&Ms that were labeled as being from a “dark chocolate category.” In the color–label condition, sighted participants received an M&M of each of the four possible color–label combinations. The participants rated brown M&Ms as being significantly more chocolatey than green M&Ms and “dark chocolate”-labeled M&Ms as being significantly more chocolatey than “milk chocolate”-labeled ones. No such effects were observed for the likability data. There was no interaction between the color and label factors. These results illustrate that flavor perception involves the combining of chemosensory information with both visual (color) information and cognitive, expectancy-based (label) inputs.
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It was important that people did not have any specific preconceptions about different colors of the chosen candy tasting different from one another. A small survey study was, therefore, conducted in which 30 participants were asked the question, “Do you think that different colored M&Ms taste different?” Two thirds of the participants replied “No,” thus, providing evidence that in general people do not believe certain colored M&Ms to have different flavors from the others (Levitan et al. 2008). Thus, since our participants were unlikely to have had any expectations that different M&Ms would taste any different as a function of their color, any associations we interpret as guiding their ratings can be explained by appealing to more generalized or M&M nonspecific color–flavor associations.
While the authors assumed that participants understood “chocolatey-ness” as reflecting differences in chocolate cocoa intensity (given the chocolate samples they were presented with that ranged from white to dark), future experiments should test whether participants are able to successfully discriminate between these types of chocolates in preliminary blind-tasting tests.
The following mean Likability Ratings were observed: Likability Ratings in the Color Condition: Green = 3.4 vs. Brown = 3.6; Likeability Ratings in the Label Condition: Milk = 3.9 vs. Dark = 3.9; Likeability Ratings for Color in Color/Label Condition: Green = 3.8 vs. Brown = 4.0; Likeability Ratings for Label in Color/Label Condition: Milk = 3.8 vs. Dark = 4.0.
This is consistent with Garber et al.’s (2001) finding that liking is affected by color and label information in a food context where color does signal flavor, even when the flavor information is incorrect. In the present experiment, color did not signal flavor.
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Resubmitted to: Chemosensory Perception (March 2009)
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Shankar, M.U., Levitan, C.A., Prescott, J. et al. The Influence of Color and Label Information on Flavor Perception. Chem. Percept. 2, 53–58 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12078-009-9046-4
- Multisensory Integration
- Color–Flavor Interactions
- Label–Flavor Interactions
- Flavor Perception
- Intersensory Conflict