Eating for Joy or Frustration

How strongly do emotions impact on taste perception? This question has been explored by psychologist Petra Platte and her study group at the University of Würzburg.

The researchers showed the study participants video clips, depicting funny, sad or neutral scenes. Before and after the showing, the study participants were asked to drink liquid samples and rate the intensity of the respective taste – sweet, sour or bitter. They were also asked to assess the fat content of milk on the basis of its taste.

The results showed: People with a penchant for being in a negative mood were no longer able to distinguish between low and high fat content after watching funny or sad video clips. However, they were quite able to recognize the difference in fat content after watching the neutral film scenes or before watching the video clips. Furthermore, these study participants rated the bitter or sweet samples as tasting more intense.

Strong impact of emotions

„With our experiments, we have shown how strongly emotions can modulate our taste perception, which might have significant impact on our eating behavior,“ says Petra Platte. In her opinion, the study results also explain why some people overindulge in potato chips or other high-fat snacks in front of the TV.

„It is possible that people in a negative mood focus much more of their attention on the film than people in a good or neutral mood when watching emotional scenes,“ says the Würzburg researcher. As a result, there is no cognitive capacity left for „unimportant tasks“, such as the assessment of fat content in food: „The cognitive control over the eating behavior fails, which practically results in automatic eating.“

This means that people with frustrations or mild depressions and weight problems might be well advised to fill one portion of chips into a small bowl rather than placing the whole bag on the table when watching TV. Next, the Würzburg researchers are going to determine whether it is effective to give psychological advice to these people.

Platte P, Herbert C, Pauli P, Breslin PAS (2013): Oral Perceptions of Fat and Taste Stimuli Are Modulated by Affect and Mood Induction. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065006

Go to the online article in PLoS ONE:

Contact person

PD Dr. Petra Platte, Department of Psychology at the University of Würzburg, T +49 (0)931 31-82121, platte@psychologie.uni-wuerzburg.de

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