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Sensory identification of consumed products by the tongue is called taste perception or gustation. Taste receptors located on the tongue react chemically with food allowing determining specific qualities of the substance. Until recent research, it was believed that there are four main categories of taste, including sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and bitterness. However, the development of science and in-depth study of gustation led to the discovery of the fifth category. In 1985 scientific community recognized umami as a new taste type. Evolution significantly influenced gustation, making it a unique survival instrument and finding nutritious food which is not harmful. For example, sweetness is an indicator of food containing energy-rich sugars. Sourness and bitterness helped people determine rotten or poisonous substances. Even though these functions are not as relevant now as they were centuries ago, potential discoveries may significantly influence the way humanity consumes food.
One of the latest theories influencing the basics of gustation is related to the perception of complex carbohydrates. Recent research has shown that tongue receptors may be able to determine carbohydrates as a distinct taste type. There is a wide variety of areas in which gustation is studied, and further research on the subject may contribute to the development of public catering, medicine, and food production technologies. Recent research focuses on the importance of expectations and emotional background for gustation. Scientists also study sweeteners’ consumption effects on taste perception and the interrelations between sweet taste liking and propensity for drug use.
There is considerable evidence of the dependence of sensory stimuli on anticipation. It was also discovered that expectations might influence the subjective evaluation of taste. Nevertheless, research was conducted in order to determine if expectations may also impact taste reception on perceptual levels (Wilton et al., 2018). Queuing participants of the experiment for specific tastes, such as high-sweet substances, yet providing the opposite influenced their gustation, tilting perception of the actual taste towards the expected one (Wilton et al., 2018). Experimental data and analysis have proven that there is a correlation between expectations and taste perception. Gustation experience may be influenced by a wide variety of personal aspirations and assumptions.
Such research may have substantial practical and theoretical value for humanity. The practical value may be expressed by the application of accumulated knowledge in marketing and business psychology. The above-mentioned study may explain why customers tend not to choose food labeled as “healthy” or “low-fat” (Wilton et al., 2018). People expect these types of food to be less tasty, and such expectations impact their taste perception. Sufficient knowledge of the subject may contribute to the development of specific approaches to changing food aspirations in order to improve the consumption experience.
Emotions and particularly emotional visual stimuli may influence the process of taste evaluation. Several studies have proven that there is an interrelation between human senses, which means touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste may have a significant influence on each other. The latest research was conducted to determine if gustation experience depends on emotional content perceived through hearing or sight. The participants who tasted the substance under the influence of positive stimuli rated the taste to be sweeter compared to the impact of negatively-valenced incentives (Wang & Spence, 2017). Their results were similar for both visual and auditory stimuli (Wang & Spence, 2017). These studies may considerably contribute to the development of evolutionary psychology.
Experimental results may represent practical value for food or restaurant industries as they scientifically prove that related services and overall appeal directly influence taste perception. Various common and individual aspects of consumption experience may lead to a decrease or increase in demand for certain food products. Another valuable element of the above-mentioned research is its compliance with the principles of evolutionary psychology. Human senses are biologically designed as the main source of safety as they identify danger. In some cases, safety may be more important than such basic needs as food and water. Correlation between external stimuli and taste perception may indicate that during the evolution, disturbing sounds and images physiologically prevented food consumption.
Several studies have linked sweet taste preference to drug use in both animals and humans. Such interrelation may have practical value for drug abuse prevention and therapy. The recent research focused its attention on subjective responses to amphetamine in correlation with sweet taste preferences. The experimental study was conducted to determine if sweet preference could indicate higher stimulant drug rewards. The results have shown that in some cases, interrelation is not only dependent on sweet liking but on sex (Weafer et al., 2017). Researchers have found that sweet liking was closely linked with greater amphetamine effects (Weafer et al., 2017). However, results were not equal for female and male participants, as women represented a more significant association between sweet preference and amphetamine euphoria.
The above-mentioned study may significantly contribute to the evaluation of drug abuse in both men and women. These results may also indicate that people require a different approach to care and treatment depending on their sex and taste preferences. Further research in the related scientific area may develop new ways of fighting drug abuse and addiction. Moreover, studying the influence of taste preferences on subjective responses to drugs may lead to the establishment of new, less harmful alternative reinforces. Some studies have already shown that food may represent an alternative to drugs as it offers similar rewards.
Artificial Food Impact on Taste Preferences
As already mentioned, taste has evolutionary roots as it serves as the primary criteria to assess food. Bitter and sour tastes may warn both animals and humans of potential harm related to poisonous substances. Sweetness is the main indicator of high energy sources. During the process of evolution, tastes were established in a way that humanity tends to prefer substances which are not dangerous and are nutritious. However, the development of chemistry and technology introduced modern artificial food sources and flavor additives that conflict with the biological functions of gustation. For example, artificial sweeteners do not contain as many calories as natural sweet products. Such discrepancy between taste and nutritional value may cause changes in energy and body weight regulation as well as lead to the transformation of taste preferences (Vera-Rivera et al., 2018).
It is crucial to study how artificial food products influence energy and nutrition balance. According to some studies, consumption of non-caloric sweeteners may reduce the ability to determine post-ingestive caloric consequences of sweet taste (Vera-Rivera et al., 2018). Such results may indicate that artificial products have a considerable impact on both gustative and digestive functions. Further research in the area may prevent possible global health issues related to the introduction of new catering technologies. As expectations and emotions were also proven to be involved in taste perception, it may be vital to develop a specific gustation-based approach to nutrition, which contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
Gustation is an essential element of human senses and is an inseparable part of human evolution. The research on the topic of taste perception has already led to important discoveries related to various aspects of human life. Nevertheless, there are numerous possibilities for future studies as gustation-related knowledge may contain both theoretical and practical value. Studies determined the correlation between personal expectations with taste perception. Furthermore, it was proven that emotional states might also influence gustation experience. Such data may contribute to the establishment of new psychological approaches in medicine. Research results also maintain the idea of the strong correlation between physiology and psychology. Some studies in the area are of an applied nature, and their social and medical value should be taken into consideration. In addition, accumulated knowledge about taste perception mechanisms may contribute to the development of evolutionary psychology. Conclusively, surveys and discoveries related to gustation build unique knowledge in diverse areas, including psychology, physiology, sociology, and even business. It is essential to pay broader attention to the mentioned subject to not miss the numerous opportunities it offers.
Vera-Rivera, G., Miranda, M.-I., Rangel-Hernández, J. A., Badillo-Juárez, D., Fregoso-Urrutia, D., & Caynas-Rojas, S. (2018). Effects of caloric or non-caloric sweetener long-term consumption on taste preferences and new aversive learning. Nutritional Neuroscience, 23(2), 128–138. Web.
Wang, Q., & Spence, C. (2017). “A sweet smile”: the modulatory role of emotion in how extrinsic factors influence taste evaluation. Cognition and Emotion, 32(5), 1052–1061. Web.
Weafer, J., Lyon, N., Hedeker, D., & de Wit, H. (2017). Sweet taste liking is associated with subjective response to amphetamine in women but not men. Psychopharmacology, 234(21), 3185–3194. Web.
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Wilton, M., Stancak, A., Giesbrecht, T., Thomas, A., & Kirkham, T. (2018). Intensity expectation modifies gustatory evoked potentials to sweet taste: Evidence of bidirectional assimilation in early perceptual processing. Psychophysiology, 56(3). Web.