Ever tried some wonderful wine or food at a restaurant and then brought some home, but it just didn’t taste the same? Recent studies show that the perception of taste is not just a matter of the tastebuds, but it is also affected by the sound environment. Therefore, to recreate a great dish, you might just need a different soundtrack!
Research has shown the multitude of ways that music can influence emotions, cognition as well as decision-making. Music can also affect purchasing behavior, for instance, it has been found that when a shop plays French music in the background, the sales of French wine increase, and that wine shoppers buy more expensive wines when classical music rather than pop music is playing in the background.
Music can also influence the taste of wine. According to research, the emotions evoked by the music one is listening to while enjoying a glass of wine can seep through into how the wine tastes.
In this study, participants tasted white and red wines while listening to different music pieces that were selected to reflect different emotional connotations that could also represent the characteristics of the wine. These included: Carmina Burana, representing “powerful and heavy”, Waltz of the Flowers representing “subtle and refined”, Just Can’t Get Enough representing “zingy and refreshing”, and Slow Breakdown representing “mellow and soft”. With these music pieces playing in the background, participants were asked to rate how “powerful and heavy”, “subtle and refined”, “zingy and refreshing” or “mellow and soft” the wine they were tasting was. According to the results of the study, the pieces playing in the background influenced these ratings - a wine was rated as significantly more ‘zingy and refreshing’ when the ‘zingy and refreshing’ music was played rather than the other types of music.
Recently, similar discoveries have been made, with gelati and beer. In the first case, participants in a study tasted three different kinds of chocolate gelato (dark, bittersweet, and milk chocolate) while listening to music. Before the tasting, the participants rated the pleasantness of the musical pieces that were used. In the tasting situation, participants rated each chocolate gelato with the temporal dominance of the sensations: a method where the participant rates the different sensations they experience, such as bitterness, sweetness, and pleasantness, while tasting a food or drink.
According to the results, when the music that the participants disliked was playing, pleasantness ratings of all chocolate gelati decreased, bitterness ratings increased, and sweetness ratings declined. Conversely, when neutral music or music the participants enjoyed was playing, pleasantness ratings soared for all the gelati, and ratings of sweetness increased.
On similar lines, another study recently found that background music influences the perceived taste of beer. The researchers chose soundtracks that had been previously found to evoke sweet, bitter and sour taste attributes. In the experiment, participants tasted two identical beers, but with different kinds of music playing in the background. According to the results, the music that was playing in the background during the tasting had a significant effect on the perceived taste of the beer. For example, when a “sweet” soundtrack was playing, the participants rated the beer as sweet and when listening to “bitter” music, they rated the beer as strong.
Results like these may come off as predominantly amusing, but they tell a deeper story. The fact that background music can have an observable effect on experiences in a totally different sensory domain indicates an intriguing interaction between senses, as well as speaks about the multifaceted nature of seemingly simple experiences such as taste. It also reveals the potential of music in shaping our experience of the world. If a dish may turn sour with the wrong music, maybe a day gone sour can be turned sweet again with the right soundtrack?
Kantono, K., Hamid, N., Shepherd, D., Yoo, M. J. Y., Grazioli, G., & Carr, B. T. (2016). Listening to music can influence hedonic and sensory perceptions of gelati. Appetite, 100, 244–255. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.143
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