Tag Archives: Sense of taste

Sweet & sour music

Two experiments investigated the influence of the harmonic content of background music on taste perception.

The participants evaluated samples of mixed fruit juice while listening to soundtracks that had either been harmonized with consonant or dissonant musical intervals. Each sample of juice was rated on three computer-based scales: One scale was anchored with the words sour and sweet, while the other two scales involved hedonic ratings of the music and of the juice.

Participants reliably associated the consonant soundtracks with sweetness and the dissonant soundtracks with sourness, rating the juices as tasting significantly sweeter in the consonant than in the dissonant music condition, irrespective of the melody or instrumentation involved. These results provide empirical support for the claim that the crossmodal correspondence between basic taste and a higher-level musical attribute (harmony in this case) can be used to modify the evaluation of the taste of a drink.

This according to “Striking a sour note: Assessing the influence of consonant and dissonant music on taste perception” by Charles Spence (above) and Qian Janice Wang (Multisensory research XXIX/1–3 [2016] pp. 195–208).

Another post about Professor Spence’s research is here. Below, some consonance and dissonance imaging.

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Synesthesia with wine

wine-piano

In an experiment, 250 adults were offered a glass of wine in return for answering a few questions about its taste. After clearing their palates, each received a glass of either cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay and was taken to one of five rooms: four that each featured a different type of music playing in a continuous loop, and a silent one serving as a control. Participants were asked to spend about five minutes sipping the wine, and were told not to converse.

A smaller pilot study had determined the four types of music:

  • “powerful and heavy” (“O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina burana)
  • “subtle and refined” (“Вальс цветов” [Val’s cvetov/Waltz of the flowers] from Cajkovskij’s Щелкунчик [Ŝelkunčik/Nutcracker])
  • “zingy and refreshing” (Nouvelle Vague’s Just can’t get enough)
  • “mellow and soft” (Michael Brook’s Breakdown)

After drinking the wine and listening to the music, participants were asked to rate the wine’s taste on a scale from zero to ten in the categories represented by the music types. In each case, participants perceived the wine in a manner consistent with the music they had listened to while drinking it.

This according to “Wine & song: The effect of background music on the taste of wine” by Adrian C. North (Wineanorak, 2008). In an earlier experiment, documented in “The influence of in-store music on wine selections” (Journal of applied psychology LXXXIV/2 [April 1999] pp. 271–276), North and two colleagues demonstrated that playing music identified with a particular country in a wine shop had a positive influence on sales of wine from that country.

For a related post, see As bitter as a trombone. Below, Placido Domingo shares observations on wine and synesthesia from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.

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As bitter as a trombone

Data from an experiment in which subjects listened to a series of pitches played on various instruments while tasting flavors such as lemon, peppermint, and salt showed significant connections between the sounds of the instruments and flavor perceptions.

For example, the taste of sugar was considered inappropriate for brass instruments, while it matched well with the piano. Orange-flower went with brass but not with strings, while coffee failed to correspond with brass but suited woodwinds nicely. “Our results”, the researchers noted with commendable practicality, “raise important questions about our representation of tastes and flavors and could also lead to applications in the marketing of food products.”

This according to “As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic correspondences in nonsynesthetes between tastes/flavors and musical notes” by Anne-Sylvie Crisinel and Charles Spence (Attention, perception, and psychophysics LXXII/7 [October 2010], pp. 1994-2002). Thanks to the Improbable research blog for bringing this to our attention!

Below, the picante trombones of Willie Colón’s band, ca. 1967.

Related articles: 

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