By Emily Reynolds
Smell is often viewed as a particularly evocative sense: unless you have been transported back in time by a nostalgic smell, you are almost certainly familiar with the phenomenon when you refer to the famous Proustic onslaught. Fragrance is also increasingly used in marketing, with some evidence suggesting that smell can influence consumer judgments and decisions.
A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, takes a closer look at how smell interacts with other senses to influence our perception. The team, led by Dipayan Biswas of the University of South Florida, notes that looking at food before smelling it can improve our enjoyment of what we eat.
In the first study, 198 students were divided into four conditions. Under all conditions, five pieces of red strawberry flavored fruit snack were placed in an opaque envelope in front of the participants. In the first condition, participants first smelled the snack before looking in the envelope. in the second, participants watched the snack before smelling it; and in the last two conditions, participants were instructed to either just smell or just look at the snack.
All participants then rated the expected taste of the snack and described its smell and color. They were then allowed to eat the fruit snack and rate their perception of the actual taste and how much they liked it. Finally, they stated whether or not they would recommend it to a friend and were asked whether they would like to either enter a prize draw for a gift card or a bag of the snack they had just tried.
The expected taste was more favorable in the state in which the participants saw the food before they smelled it; Those in this condition also rated the snack cheaper after this Tasting. These participants were also more likely to recommend the snack to a friend and to accept the full-size pouch at the end of a survey rather than entering the prize draw. Taken together, this suggests that seeing the food before smelling it had a beneficial effect on its enjoyment. A second study that repeated the first with a carbonated drink and a third that did the same with a biscuit produced similar results.
In the final study, participants either received lemonade that was purple in color so that its appearance did not match the lemony smell, or that retained its clear, “natural” color. If the scent matched how the drink looked, those who saw the drink before smelling it again reported that it tasted better than those who smelled it before they saw it. However, if the visual cue did not match the smell, the taste was evaluated in a similar manner under both conditions.
The team suggests that when people see a food or drink and then smell it, it is easier to process the smell, resulting in increased taste perception. However, if the visual cues are inconsistent with the smell, seeing and then smelling the smell can make processing the smell difficult because the smell is inconsistent with the color. This could be a sign that food and beverage manufacturers should stay away from artificial colors that do not match the expected taste or smell.
Overall, the results suggest that taking a closer look at your food before you smell it can result in increased enjoyment. However, if you’re not ready to put a hook on your nose while you’re cooking, it can be tricky when you’re making your own dinner. For prepackaged foods bought in supermarkets, bakeries, or anywhere else, clever packaging can improve enjoyment.
– Effects of sequential sensory cues on the perception of food taste: cross-modal interaction between visual and olfactory stimuli
Emily Reynolds is an associate at BPS Biomedarticles