Direct touch of food makes eating experience more enjoyable

New Delhi: In people who regularly control their diet, direct touch of food triggers an enhanced sensory response which makes food more desirable and appealing, according to a new study that may help retailers drive consumer behaviour. The study, published in the Journal of Retailing, revealed that when high self-control individuals touch food directly with their hands, as opposed to using a utensil, they not only experienced it as tastier and more satisfying, but also ate more of it.

According to the researchers, including those from Stevens Institute of Technology in the US, the findings may not only offer a way to increase the appeal of food, but also offers retailers a way to make the eating experience more enjoyable for consumers sampling food.

“It’s an interesting effect. It’s such a small tweak but it can change how people evaluate your product,” said Adriana Madzharov, study co-author from Stevens Institute of Technology. In the first experiment part of the study, 45 undergraduate students visually inspected and evaluated a cube of Muenster cheese, holding it before eating, while the researchers asked them questions about their eating behaviour.

Half of the participants, the study noted, sampled a cheese cube with an appetizer pick on it, and the other half sampled it without a pick. Both the groups direct touch and indirect touch did not indicate any difference between the cheese before eating it, the researchers said. However, they said, participants who reported a high degree of self-control when consuming food individuals who said they can resist tasty foods, and are conscious about what and how much they eat perceived the cheese as tastier and more appetizing after they ate it.

This finding, the study noted, did not hold true for people who reported a low degree of self-control when consuming food. “These two groups do not appear to process sensory information in the same way,” Madzharov said. According to the researchers, in people who regularly control their food consumption, direct touch triggers an enhanced sensory response, making food more desirable and appealing. In a second experiment, when the researchers manipulated the participants’ thinking on self-control goals and food consumption, the same findings persisted, according to the study.

The scientists suggested, based on this observation, that a high degree of self-control influences how people experience food when they touch it directly with their hands — whether this self-control is real or primed. In this experiment, Madzharov and her team separated a new set of 145 undergraduate students into two groups. The first group, the scientists said, imagined that they had decided to be more careful with their diet, cutting back on excessive eating in order to achieve their long-term objective of being fit and healthy.

They asked the participants in the second group to imagine worrying less about their weight all the time, and to allow themselves to indulge in tasty foods more often in order to enjoy life and experience its pleasures. Similar to the first experiment, the participants were then asked to visually inspect and evaluate food (mini donuts given to them in a plastic cup) half with appetizer picks, and half without picks.

They were asked to inspect the donuts based on features such as texture, freshness, quality, and nutrition. The researchers also instructed the participants to report their level of focus and attention when eating the mini donuts to get a measure of mindfulness and sensory experience. Madzharov and her team found that participants primed with self-control, as opposed to indulgent thinking, evaluated the sampled food more positively when they touched it directly with their hands.

The researchers believe that the mechanism driving this effect was the enhanced sensory experience that participants reported in the direct touch coupled with self-control condition. An earlier study, they cited, explored how the weight and texture of containers and cups influence how people evaluate food or beverage. From this study, the researchers said, strawberry-flavoured mousse tasted 10 per cent sweeter when served from a white container rather than a black one, and coffee tasted nearly twice as intense when drunk from a white mug rather than a clear glass one. They said its findings confirmed that tactile input from cues external to the food is important.

The current study, Madzharov and her team said, is the first to report that direct touch of food may influence how people experience food.

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