The findings present interesting food for thought to those working in the food industry. As individual’s food experience is influenced by all five senses, the research here adds to the theory that eating behaviour is also influenced by cognitive and emotional factors.
A number of studies have already shown that the relationship between eating and emotion varies according to the particular characteristics of the individual. Anxiety, anger, joy, depression, sadness are examples of emotions that have been the subject of recent research.
Here, researchers from the University of Udine in Italy took 33 volunteers, 18 male and 15 female aged between 20 and 31 years. None of the participants had coeliac disease nor intolerance to the components of the presented food stimuli.
A margherita pizza was selected as the food model. Different degrees of desirability were created by digitally manipulating the sauce colour coordinate between light red (−30), standard (red 00) and bright red (+30).
Using the same stimulus in different visual variances allowed the researchers to control for homogeneity of responses due to differences in the visual composition of food.
The participants then rated the pizza desirability on the basis of its visual features alone and, after viewing images representing facial expressions of happiness, anger and neutrality.
The researchers found an overall effect of the social context (facial expressions) on food desirability.
When presented alone (no-context condition), light red colour effectively diminished the pizza desirability value, supporting the view that diminished colours are typically associated with the decomposition process of food.
The researchers found the opposite when they increased the red colour brightness in the study. They found had no significant effect on the pizza appeal, which was in contrast with the idea that high chromatic food colour is associated with food preference.
Additional results found that that the desirability scores for the 3 pizza variations significantly decreased, compared to the no-context condition, when presented in association with both a neutral and angry facial expression.
The happy facial expressions exerted no effect on food desirability compared to the no-context condition. In fact, pizzas primed by a happy face received virtually identical scores to those recorded for the no-context condition.
Eating as a social pastime
“Food presentation, when associated with an emotion, requires this emotion to be overly positive at least to maintain the desirability aspect it conveys through its visual appearance,” the researchers noted.
“This idea is supported by our results showing that happy faces, among the three tested emotions, evoked the highest ratings for all pizza variations.”
This result is consistent with the idea – backed up by studies - that people, who are in a state of joy, undergo a positive food experience. The featured study also supports this theory that in healthy individuals, food presentation is intrinsically related to a positive emotion.
“More generally, the present data suggest that the quality of the emotions expressed have to be considered both in the food marketing industry as well as in restaurants and other places where food is consumed, since they could enhance the pleasantness or unpleasantness of food,” the study concluded.
Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2016.02.005
“Is food desirability affected by social interaction?”
Authors: Matteo Rizzato et al.