At home, in a restaurant, or in a cafeteria, most people sit to eat. However, a recent trend in dining is to eat while standing, as evidenced by food trucks, cocktail parties, sampling stations at grocers/trade shows, and conference receptions. Moreover, busy people who eat on the go often do so while standing.
Previous research has demonstrated how the five senses—vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste—impact judgments and perceptions, including perceptions about food. In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Dipayan Biswas and colleagues took this line of research a step further by examining how posture, or the vestibular system (i.e., "sixth sense"), affects the perceived taste of food.
The team focused on taste measures in 343 participants (45.2% women) who either stood or sat in a chair with a backrest to sample either pleasant-tasting foods (e.g., pita chips, classic brownies, fruit snacks, coffee, or flavored sports drinks) or unpleasant-tasting foods (e.g., salty brownies).
“Standing (vs. sitting) postures induce greater physical stress on the body, which in turn decreases sensory sensitivity. As a result, when eating in a standing (vs. sitting) posture, consumers rate the taste of pleasant-tasting foods and beverages as less favorable, the temperature as less intense, and they consume smaller amounts. The effects of posture on taste perception are reversed for unpleasant-tasting foods,” the authors wrote.
The researchers suggested certain practical applications for their research.
First, companies offering free samples may benefit from doing so in an environment where consumers are sitting.
Second, because unpleasant foods taste less unpleasant while standing, children who are reluctant eaters may eat more while standing.
Third, for children and adults taking unpleasant-tasting medications, it may be beneficial to stand.
Fourth, to limit the amount of food consumed, it may be a good idea to stand while eating. In fact, medical research has shown that standing compared with sitting results in other beneficial health effects including improved blood circulation and decreased risk of cancer and other illnesses.
Intriguingly, the researchers also examined how taste perception in those participants sitting on a stool (i.e., no backrest) compared with standing. In these participants, taste measures were somewhere in-between standing and sitting in a chair with a backrest.
“Many restaurants in the U.S. use stools in the bar area,” wrote the authors, “the findings of this study would suggest that providing chairs, instead of stools, might be more beneficial in terms of favorably influencing taste perceptions.”
Finally, although not mentioned by the authors, for those who like to savor their meals, it may be worth carving a few minutes out of the day to sit back, relax, and eat lunch. After all, enjoying food is one of life’s simple pleasures.
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