Auditory contributions to flavour perception and feeding behaviour

Spence C. Physiol Beba (2012); 107: 505-515

Summarized by: Francisco Javier Álvarez Martínez

On the contrary to popular belief, sound is closely related to taste and nutritional behaviour. In recent years, researchers have given more attention to this aspect and has considered it as of great important that affects the consumer´s response to food and beverage, both for the choice of a particular brand and taste perception.

This review, published in “Physiology & Behaviour” in 2012, describes seven correlations between sound and food behaviour, derived from a large number of scientific studies:

  1. The sound of the food: Researchers have discovered that the consumers of potato chips perceive them as crunchier when the sound they produce is higher. However, this effect is blocked when the sound is muffled, altering their perception despite being the same potato chip. A similar observation was detected with refreshments. In this case, the consumer perceived more carbonation when the bubbling sound is higher. These data indicate that the sense of hearing, along with the mouth sensations, plays an important role in food property determination.


  1. Sound of the food´s wrapping: The sounds that the consumers perceive before consuming the product also affect the experience with food. This effect is related to associative learning, similar to the famous dogs of Pavlov. Thanks to this effect, it is possible to add distinct sounds to the container to make the food unique, which is highly valued by the brands. An example of this is the “pop” sound that a potato chip brand container makes when it is opened.


  1. Sound when preparing a meal or food: there are certain sounds clearly associated to the preparation of foods, such as a coffee machine in a cafeteria. Several studies have shown a positive correlation of these sounds with the foods.


  1. Background music: there are certain studies that have shown that music influences the consumer to purchase certain products as well as how much food is purchased. For example, consumers purchase more expensive wines when listening to classical music. When the consumers were asked if the music influenced their purchase, they replied negatively. This effect is especially useful for stores, as they can unconsciously modulate the consumer´s choices depending on their needs.


  1. Background sounds: certain sounds can also alter taste perception. A study performed with 30 volunteers indicated that the consumers eating oysters considered them to be tastier when listening to the sound of the ocean compared to those listening to other sounds. This indicates that the background sounds can modify or intensify the tastes that are present in a dish.


  1. Association of sounds with flavours: many studies have shown that consummers are capable of associating pleasant flavours with pleasant musich or sounds. This also occurs with aromas and other food properties. Therefore, what he listen to while eating can focus our attention to certain elements of the meal. However, it cannot create flavours or aromas that are not present in the meal.


  1. The sound of the name of the foods: there seems to be a correlation between sensorial quality of a product and its food or brand name. This can be present in the texture, flavour or properties of the food.


In conclusion, the sounds that we hear while eating can alter our taste perception, even in an unconscious level. The neurological basis of this phenomenon is unknown. However, the role of hearing in our eating habits cannot be underestimated.