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Rituals Make Food Taste Better

Rituals Make Food Taste Better

You spend a little extra time stirring the lemonade, listening to the spoon clinking against the glass. You break the chocolate bar into neat sections before popping that first little rectangle into your mouth. You sing the happy birthday song and make a wish before blowing out the candles on the cake. All these things can make those foods taste better, according to a collection of studies published in Psychological Science.

The research indicates that rituals, even silly ones, have the power to change our perception of how food tastes. Kathleen Vohs, psychological scientist at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota observed that many people create little routines before eating or drinking, so she set out to find out what effect they had on taste perception.

“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,” says Ms. Vohs. “Itís never enough sugar, so I then pour about half of the packet in. The thing is, this isnít a functional ritual, I should just skip right to pouring in half the packet.”

Along with other researchers, Vohs conducted a series of experiments involving ritualistic behaviors, consumption of various foods, and how people perceive taste. In one experiment, volunteers were asked to eat a piece of chocolate according to these instructions: “Without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half. Unwrap half of the bar and eat it. Then, unwrap the other half and eat it.” Others were asked to relax for a bit, then eat a chocolate bar however they wanted.

Those who performed the ritual gave the chocolate higher ratings for taste and were willing to pay a higher price for the chocolate than the group who didn’t.

Another experiment showed that random actions don’t do the trick. Rather, repeated, episodic, and fixed behaviors — rituals — are more likely to improve our perception of how food tastes. Researchers also found that a delay between the ritual and eating intensified the effect. Apparently, anticipation improves taste. Watching someone else perform the ritual doesn’t work. It’s the personal involvement that does the trick.

The research team believes this type of ritual may be useful in other situations as well. “We are thinking of getting patients to perform rituals before a surgery and then measuring their pain post-operatively and how fast they heal,” says Vohs.

Psychological Science is a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Co-authors included Yajin Wang of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and Francesca Gino and Michael Norton of Harvard Business School.

Photo: Collection-Photodisc|Photographer-Robert Koene|Thinkstock

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3:06AM PST on Feb 22, 2014

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6:22AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

I still make my tea the old fashioned way. Warmed tea pot in a cozy, good steeping time. A tea bag in a cup just doesn't taste the same! Half of it is the anticipation I think.

3:14AM PDT on Sep 17, 2013

I agree with this article. I have a ritual in the morning with my coffee coffee, which always makes it taste better- I have it in bed!

9:24PM PDT on Sep 14, 2013

Interesting, ty.

9:20PM PDT on Sep 14, 2013

Interesting, ty.

4:46AM PDT on Aug 14, 2013

Interesting---thanks

11:03AM PDT on Aug 12, 2013

Beth, I think so.

It creates a space in your personal world for the activity. (Eating in this case)

Even with the one group in the chocolate experiment simply waiting, the people with actions to center themselves reported more enjoyment.

8:44PM PDT on Aug 10, 2013

Interesting

3:06PM PDT on Aug 6, 2013

noted

10:43AM PDT on Aug 6, 2013

We have so many rituals when the family was together it's a wonder we got to eat.

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