Not long ago, someone e-mailed me a new, hot-off-the-press study on taste preferences and disposition. The study came from North Dakota State University and Gettysburg College, and it involved personality differences between people who liked sweet foods versus bitter, spicy, sour, salty, or umami flavors. The researchers -- psychologists Brian Meier, Michael Robinson and their colleagues -- wanted to know, “Is having a sweet tooth related to having a sweeter disposition?”
Here’s a sample of what they asked their hundred or so volunteers.
Candy, caramel, chocolate cake, honey, ice cream, maple syrup, pears, raisins, strawberries, and sugar. How fond were they of these dessert flavors?
The volunteers rated their taste preferences on a scale of 1-10.
Following that, they completed an agreeableness scale. That is, they were asked to indicate the extent to which they behave in ways reflective of high (e.g., “have a soft heart”) versus low (e.g., “insult people”) levels of agreeableness.
Pleasingly, the researchers found a significant correlation. People who loved sweets were likelier to be more agreeable.
“Further proof that chocolate lovers have sweeter babies!” my corresponent gushed. There’s some logic here: If people with a sweet tooth really have a sweeter disposition, then women who love sweets might have sweeter babies because disposition is (somewhat) heritable. Equally valid, people who have sweeter dispositions may have a gentler parenting style. Perhaps this results in babies that have sweeter dispositions. Ergo, chocolate lovers have sweeter babies. Natch.
Then Meier and Robinson took their study to the next level to see if sweet-tooth types not only score high on the sweetness scale but act sweeter too.
They did this slyly. At the end of the session, they told the participants that the study was over and that full participation credit would be awarded, thereby relieving them of any further obligations. However, it was mentioned that a colleague in the English department was collecting data on media preferences and was looking for volunteers. Would anyone be interested?
Interestingly, people who loved sweets were more likely to complete the voluntary survey, even though they weren’t getting any extra credit or compensation.
I wonder: does the mere suggestion of sweet food make some people act sweeter (e.g. does exposure to words like "pie" and "chocolate" prime people to be more agreeable)? Does sweet-tasting food make people less angry and aggressive? The researchers claim that metaphors can be predictive about behavior and personality. Because the word “sweet” in English applies to both taste and disposition, does the correlation apply in other languages?
How 甜 (sweet) would that be?
*If you like this blog, click here for previous posts. If you wish, check out my new book, Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy.