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Assessing the Role of Sound in the Perception of Food and Drink

Abstract

The consumption of food and drink are among the most multisensory of our perceptual experiences. In fact, the evaluation of foodstuffs is not only influenced by the unified oral sensation (or Gestalt) of taste and smell in the mouth but also by what the foods look, feel (i.e., oral texture, temperature, viscosity, etc.), and sound like (particularly for noisy foods such as crisps, celery, carrots, etc.) when we eat or drink them. The empirical literature reviewed here highlights the important role that auditory cues have on our perception of a variety of different food and drink items. In particular, changing the sounds that are made when we bite into a foodstuff, or the sounds that are made by carbonated drinks, have both been shown to have a dramatic effect on perception. Auditory stimuli that are not even directly food-related have also been shown to influence people’s behavior. The present article reviews the growing body of research, highlighting the significant effects that music and other auditory stimuli can have on people’s food choices. Taken together, the results of the studies reported here unequivocally show that what people hear (be it food-related or nonrelated sounds) can have a dramatic effect on their perceptions of food and drink. Finally, we report a number of explanations that have been put forward in order to account for these cross-modal effects.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It is worth noting here that auditory information is not the only cue often ignored when people think about their perception of food. The average person would say that the flavour of food derives primarily from its taste in the mouth. They are often surprised to discover that there is a strong ‘nasal’ role in the perception of flavour. In fact, it has been argued that the majority of the flavour of food actually comes from its smell (e.g., Auvray and Spence 2008; Cain 1977; Murphy and Cain 1980; Rozin 1982). The fact that most of our perception of the flavour of food comes from its retronasal smell (or aroma) helps to explain why food appears to lose its taste when your nose is blocked (e.g., by a cold).

  2. 2.

    One recent influential study of the effect of visual color cues on olfactory perception has shown that colors can have qualitatively different effects on olfactory perception as a function of whether that odor is delivered orthonasally (i.e., from outside the mouth) or retronasally (from inside the mouth; Koza et al. 2005). When colored solutions were presented, participants’ odor intensity ratings were enhanced for odors smelled orthonasally and reduced for odors smelled retronasally (i.e., when the solutions were put in the mouth). The authors suggested that the visual information had less of an influence on the odors presented in the mouth because the retronasal odors are expected to be more salient than orthonasal odors (i.e., odors coming from outside the mouth). The argument is that people pay more attention to food-related stimuli when they are in our mouth than when they are outside the mouth, because one has to decide whether to swallow the food or not when the food is in the mouth. Food-related stimuli outside the mouth are perceived as being less salient; therefore, they are more likely to be influenced by visual cues (i.e., there is likely to be less cost associated with being wrong or rather being “tricked” by the presence of a misleading sensory cue).

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Zampini, M., Spence, C. Assessing the Role of Sound in the Perception of Food and Drink. Chem. Percept. 3, 57–67 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12078-010-9064-2

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Keywords

  • Multisensory
  • Food Perception
  • Audition
  • Touch
  • Vision