It’s not unusual to have passing food cravings throughout the day. We think of food all the time: when the smell of pizza wafts from the place down the street, when you pass a chocolate cake in a bakery storefront, or when you see an advertisement for a burger on television. But you might notice that these cravings are particularly strong when you’re emotionally vulnerable. People often turn to food for comfort, unconsciously or consciously, when feeling stressed, sad, or bored.
A recent study reveals that our inclination for comfort food during troubling times has is linked to more than just our need for a sense of security. It turns out that the taste of certain foods can actually change your mood. Researchers from the Netherlands, Austria, and Finland set out to measure the implicit and unconscious emotional effects of food consumption. Using four different techniques, researchers determined what, if any, emotional responses people had after eating different flavors of yogurt.
Three groups of 24 participants were given a pair of yogurts, both from the same brand and marketed in the same way. The only difference was the flavoring and fat content of each yogurt. Researchers used facial reading during consumption and eye tracking to measure the impact of packaging. They also used an emotive projection test, in which they showed participants photographs of other people and asked them to rate them based on six positive and negative traits before and after eating the yogurt. The idea was that, based on the emotion the participants projected onto the person in the photo, researchers could determine the participants’ own moods.
Finally, they used an autobiographical reaction time test based on mood congruency. However, that did not yield any significant results. Ultimately, the researchers found that liking or being familiar with a product had no effect on mood. Emotions did change after the food was tasted. Being pleasantly surprised or disappointed with a flavor appeared to influence people’s moods. Of all the yogurts, the low-fat varieties led to more positive emotional responses.
The vanilla flavor elicited a particularly strong positive emotional response. This supports previous evidence that a subtle vanilla scent in places like hospital waiting rooms can reduce aggression and facilitate bonding between patients and staff. These new findings will likely be valuable to product manufacturers, in that they demonstrate how consumers unconsciously respond to a product. Previous research has been focused on consumer response, based on conscious thought. For consumers, this offers a unique glimpse into our own consumption patterns and what leads us to purchase one product over another.
The accompanying slideshow is provided by fellow Daily Meal staff writer HellaWella