Friday, November 27, 2020

Sound challenge students’ senses

In the popular podcast, The Sporkful, host Dan Pashman and Charles Spence, a psychology professor at Oxford University, teamed up for an experiment that tested the relationship between taste and music.

The pair tested this connection by tasting the same piece of dark chocolate with two different music clips. The first clip played instrumental music. The second clip was a higher pitched version of the first clip. The two found the same piece of chocolate to be sweeter to the higher pitched music clip.

This change in taste is called “sonic seasoning,” according to an article in the Huffington Post. The article stated that the brain has a previous conception of how bitter and sweet flavors should taste. So when people take a bite of food, they already have an expectation of where that food should be classified on the bitter to sweet scale.

PSUC mathematics major Elaina Bertone tried the experiment herself, and she said she did notice the chocolate tasted sweeter when the higher pitched clip was played.

“I listen to music everyday, and I fall asleep to music every night, so music has a big impact on my life,” Bertone said. “I have set playlists for different moods, and I have a playlist to work out to and a playlist for when I’m feeling sad.”

Bertone said she loves alternative rock, and her favorite bands include Twenty One Pilots, the Arctic Monkeys and Green Day.

“It’s really cool that different kinds of music can affect your taste. I knew it could affect your mood, but for it to affect your other senses?” she said. “That’s really cool.”

PSUC Associate Professor of Psychology Wendy Braje said taste and language have an interesting relationship.

“There are connections between language and various senses,” Braje said. “There are proposals that we learn language by attaching sounds to actual physical stimuli.”

Braje said when it comes to taste, people tend to map certain tastes to certain words, such as attaching sweet flavors to round shapes.

“If you use certain words like tangy and excited, it’ll be attached to fruity flavors like that. That’s the linguistic connection,” she said.

While scientists claim music has an effect on taste, Braje said taste is a malleable sense that can be easy to manipulate.

“You can take exactly the same stimulus (food), and if you make it warm versus cold, or green versus blue, people will experience that in vastly different ways,” Braje said.

Braje said the connection between taste and music has two important implications.

“There’s the practical end of it. If you’re going into a field where you are going to be feeding people, if you’re going to work in a restaurant business or sell food, then you want to know how the background music is going to change people’s experiences,” she said.

Second, Braje brings up the theoretical end. She said it is fascinating to see neural connections and how they evolve to work together.

Braje said studies have also shown that loud background music can suppress taste. She said an example includes how people perceive airplane food to taste bland because of the excessive noise from airplanes.

“There is a lot of research showing that kind of thing. Different music will affect the label of the flavors you’re experiencing,” Braje said.

She said music has a profound impact on taste and would be interested to see more research about the effects of music on other senses, too.

Scientists are constantly exploring the different ways music can influence our bodies and minds to develop new treatments for people with stroke, autism and many other medical conditions, according to a News Health in Health study.

“They’ve used very rhythmic music to train people who have movement disorders,” Braje said.

Braje also said studies have shown that listening to a steady beat can help people with Parkinson’s disease. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease have problems with initiation and consecutive movement, so music can be a template for organizing a series of movements, according to the American Parkinson Disease Association.

Bertone said she’s never seen an experiment like the one Spence and Pashman conducted and encouraged other people to try it.

Email Kavita Singh at kavita.singh@cardinalpointsonline.com

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