The Sound of Taste

The Sound of Taste By Jamie Hale

sound and tasteIt may come as a surprise to some that sight, touch, and smell have a big impact on how we taste — pleasure derived from food. It may come as an even bigger surprise that sound also affects how we taste. The pleasure we get from that crisp sound has been demonstrated when eating food including fruits, vegetables, and crackers. Generally, the crispier a food sounds the more we like it. How does sound affect the joy you receive from eating? As you eat, different foods make different sounds. These sounds reach your inner ears through two routes. First, there is the common way, via air disturbances that travel from your mouth out into the surrounding air and then around to your ears. Second, there is bone conduction: mechanical vibrations conducted through your teeth, jaw, mandible, and skull directly to your inner ear. The sound traveling through both paths can influence how you hear your food, with the relative importance changing as your lips open and close to chew (Rosenblum, 2010, p. 106-107). In Rosenblum’s book See What I’m Saying (2010) he describes a study that provides evidence for the claim that sounds affects how we taste. In an experimental study that won the Ig Nobel Prize (an American parody of the Nobel Prize that is given each year in early October for ten unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research) participants were instructed to bite on 90 potato chips. The participants were not aware that all of the chips were the same size, shape, thickness and texture. They were instructed to bite each chip once and then spit out the severed pieces. A microphone was placed in close proximity to the participants’ mouth so the biting sounds could be modified and played back live through headphones to the subjects. The sounds were modified electronically by altering the brightness and loudness heard by the participants. The participants were then asked to rate the crispness and freshness of each chip. They were not told anything about the sound alterations, the characteristics of the chips, or that they should base their ratings on any particular sensory inputs. The results showed that the biting sound subjects (ones that heard the manipulated sounds) were heavily influenced by the electronically derived sounds. The brighter and louder the sounds heard the fresher and crispier the chip tasted. If the sound heard was duller and quieter, the chip tasted soft and stale to subjects. Remember there was no manipulation of the chips themselves, only the sound was changed. Many of the individuals that participated in the study were surprised to learn that the chips were all the same. In fact, the majority of participants thought the chips were selected from different packages and brands. References Rosenblum, L. (2010). See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses. New York, NY: Norton.


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