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Short Rituals Before Meals can Improve Flavor, Study Finds

Update Date: Jul 23, 2013 12:36 PM EDT

For most people, eating bland foods is undesirable, which is why adding spices and other aromatics are important ingredients. For people who still want to find ways of improving the taste of their meals, a new study is reporting that performing rituals before a meal can improve one's taste buds. According to the researchers, these rituals, such as singing a birthday song, can affect people's perceptions before they eat meals taste better in people's minds.

"Whenever I order an espresso, I take a sugar packet and shake it, open the packet and pour a teeny bit of sugar in, and then taste," psychological scientist, Kathleen Vohs from the Carlson School for Management at the University of Minnesota, described. Vohs explains that every one has rituals.  "It's never enough sugar, so I then pour about half of the packet in. The thing is, this isn't a functional ritual, I should just skip right to pouring in half the packet."

Vohs, who is the lead researcher of this study conducted four different experiments with her colleagues in order to analyze how these rituals affect one's mental state and perception before consumption. According to the press release, the first experiment asked participants to eat chocolate "without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half...unwrap half of the bar and eat it...unwrap the other half and eat it." The rest of the participants in this experiment were asked to relax and then eat the bar however they desired. At the end of the experiment, researchers found that participants who had to follow a ritual rated the chocolate bar's taste higher than the people without the ritual.

The second experiment was able to reconfirm the findings. The researchers concluded that repeated, episodic and fixed behaviors all affected one's perception of food. The results also found that the longer the time is between a ritual and consumption, the tastier the food was in one's mind. In the last two experiments, the researchers found that watching others prepare food did not enhance taste. The researchers believe that their findings could apply to a wider range of possibilities.

"We are thinking of getting patients to perform rituals before a surgery and then measuring their pain post-operatively and how fast they heal," Vohs said.

The study was published in Psychological Science.

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