Do Psychopaths Crave Dark Chocolate? Bittersweet New Study
Researchers establish link between personal taste and toxic traits
Posted January 3, 2018
Apparently, you are what you (prefer to) eat. Research reveals a link between taste preferences and personality. And the results suggest that bitter is not better. One study demonstrates a positive correlation between a preference for bitter taste and toxic traits.
So the next time you go out to eat with your partner, a co-worker, family member, or even an acquaintance, assuming they are not on a strict diet, health kick, or olfactorally compromised due to a head cold, what do they order? And should you be concerned?
Dinner and Drinks With a Diagnosis
Obviously, on a date, you do not want to jump to conclusions and perform an armchair diagnosis on your dining companion. Yet according to research, ordering a gin and tonic, as opposed to a sweeter option, might indicate toxic personality traits.
Sure, there is more to the equation. Psychological study results are not directly transferable to particular individuals. But it certainly is interesting to follow developing research on what our food preferences potentially reveal about our personality.
Bitter is Not Better: A Link Between Personal Taste and Toxic Traits
A recent pair of studies by Sagioglou and Greitemeyer demonstrated a link between bitter taste preferences and toxic personality traits.[i] Their unedited manuscript, which has been accepted for publication, contains a wealth of information, including discussion of prior research findings, exploring the links between food preferences, practices, experiences, and personality.
Their subjects, part of a large community sample with significant diversity in terms of age and level of education (from high school to PhD), self-reported taste preferences and also answered a number of personality questions designed to assess narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism, among other personality characteristics.
Results revealed a link between a preference for bitter taste and malevolent personality traits, with the most robust association discovered to be with psychopathy and sadism. As compared to salty, sweet, and sour taste preferences, bitter taste preferences were the strongest predictor of both traits.
Personal Taste and Personality Traits
The researchers report that as far as they know, this is the first study linking preferences in taste to antisocial traits, although prior research has examined correlations between taste preferences and personality.
But there is more. Sagioglou and Greitemeyer noted that a preference for bitter taste, in addition to the correlation with dark traits, was also a significant predictor of openness to experiences and extraversion. Agreeableness was positively linked with a preference for sweet food, but not bitter food.
Food Preference Versus Practice
In studying food preference, Sagioglou and Greitemeyer note the distinction between preference and practice. They point out, for example, that some people avoid desired foods that are expensive or fattening, while consuming other foods to be social or healthy. They also note that popular food items such as chili pepper, beer, wine, and coffee are initially aversive, yet become acquired tastes through exposure and social consequences.
Then there is the issue of food sensitivity, as well as experience—occasionally resulting from inadvertent consumption. Perhaps you have discovered the hard way that the green substance in your meal was not avocado but wasabi (pass the Kleenex box please!)
Taste Sensitivity and Experience
You have no doubt shared meals with a wide variety of discriminating palates. Some dining companions impress you with their acute ability to detect a myriad of scents and flavors in a glass of wine, while others make a big production of ordering and loading up even pre-seasoned food with spices, sauces, and salt. In other words, we differ with regard to taste sensitivity.
Sagioglou and Greitemeyer note that supertasting , defined as an increased sensitivity to bitter flavor, is linked to a higher degree of emotionality in human beings, as well as in rats. Nontasters reportedly experience a greater amount of relaxation than people who can taste.
And recognizing that taste preference is different from taste experience, the researchers note that bitter taste experiences have been linked to interpersonal hostility and harsher moral judgments. Sweet taste experiences, on the other hand, are linked with agreeableness and intention to help.
Do You Take Coffee With Your Cream and Sugar?
You might be wondering which bitter foods the twin studies examined. Items with the highest bitterness ratings included beer, radishes, coffee, tonic water, and celery. Yet this research also examined the way food is consumed—accounting, for example, for the fact that some people drink coffee with milk and sugar, which successfully counteracts the bitter taste. The taste of other foods can similarly be transformed.
A Bittersweet Ending
There is nothing wrong with noticing whether your partner´s after dinner preference is black coffee or crème brulee, or noting a preference for dark versus milk chocolate. Yet whether the selection is bitter or sweet, make sure to season your observations with a grain of salt.
[i] Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer, “Individual differences in bitter taste preferences are associated with antisocial personality,” Appetite (2015), doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.09.031.