The study from researchers at the University of Manchester, UK, investigated the interaction between initial liking and conditioning. By pairing an unfamiliar flavoured drink with film clips chosen to induce specific “positive states,” these flavours then came to evoke these target states independently.
“This experiment provides a first indication that conditioning specific positive states is possible,” wrote the authors,"...and that this process affects product liking.”
Whilst it is generally accepted that mood and emotion are influential factors in our relationship with food, this study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Food Quality and Preference, provides new insights and builds on previous research in related fields.
167 participants completed all aspects of the experiment.
Two different flavoured drinks were created by International Flavors and Fragrances Inc (IFF) specifically for the experiment. Two novel flavours were used to avoid any prior associations by participants. The first described as “acai juice” was rated by a separate pilot group study as ‘liked’ (L) and the second “citric spice” as neutral (N). The drinks were served in 180ml portions in unlabelled clear plastic cups.
Participants were divided into three groups and over five consecutive days asked to consume the drinks whilst watching film clips selected to evoke one of the desired ‘positive states’ - relaxed, active or neutral (control). Half of each group consumed drink ‘L, the other half drink ‘N’ throughout the study.
On day one of the second week of the experiment, no film was shown but participants were asked to consume the drink while performing a task. Post-event questionnaires were completed by participants each day to evaluate liking and different behavioural attributes.
“The result showed that we successfully evoked the target states,” reported the researchers. Specifically, “activity was higher in the active film clip condition than in the neutral condition.”
Whilst researchers predicted that the active and relaxed conditions would increase liking of the L flavour, they report; “we found a more complex effect that differed depending on the type of drink.”
In fact, positive conditioning reduced initial liking of the liked drink to lower ratings than in both other groups. A result which is “not easily explained” as it is contrary to previous research in the related field of evaluative conditioning.
Food Quality and Preference (Online ahead of print)
Title: Conditioning Specific Positive States to Unfamiliar Flavours Influences Flavour Liking
Authors: Kuenzel J, Blanchette I, Lion R, Zandstra E, Thomas A, El-Deredy W.