How food affects your mood

Over the course of evolution, the areas of the brain responsible for dealing with bitter tastes may have been co-opted by higher emotions. Photo / Getty

Ate something bitter? It can make you judgmental. Feeling love is all around? It can make even water taste sweeter. Not only do our emotions influence our perceptions of taste, but what we taste can also change how we feel, scientists have found.

“The tongue could be a window to the psyche,” says Nancy Dess, a professor of psychology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, pointing to the growing number of studies that connect taste perception with emotions and even personality types.

Among such recent studies were ones suggesting that tasting a sweet drink instead of water can make you feel more romantic and more inclined to go on a date, that people who are particularly sensitive to bitter taste are also more easily disgusted and that such people get more emotional – angry, sad or fearful – after watching an anger-inducing video than other people.

Dess recalls an unusual rat she once had in her lab. Unlike its peers, this one didn’t enjoy the bittersweet taste of saccharin, the artificial sweetener widely used in labs to entice rats.

Dess had an inkling that the rat’s taste preferences could be important for research, so she bred it with another rat that was also less into saccharin than average. After tens of generations, she had a line of rats that were so put off by the bitter hints in saccharin that they would drink very little of it despite its overarching sweetness.

Over the years and many experiments, Dess and colleagues found that these rats were also particularly “emotional”: more jumpy than regular rats when startled with a loud noise, and more anxious when deprived of food.

In a study published in 2012 in the journal PLOS One, Dess and colleagues showed not only that bitter-sensitive rats were more easily stressed but also that, when competing with others for access to food, they would allow themselves to be shoved aside. In science-speak, they were socially subordinate. In everyday-speak, they were pushovers.

-More at NZ Herald

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