Hearing Taste


We all know that satisfying sound of biting into a perfectly seasoned, fresh potato chip (or, “crisp” for our British friends). And then there are those times someone left the chips out too long. The crunch isn’t quite there. It’s just not the same, is it?

Zampini and Spence (2005) revealed just how much the sound of a food can affect your perception. They had subjects bite into a potato chip with their front teeth. Then, in subsequent trials, they raised either the amplitude or frequency of the noise the subjects heard while biting into the chip. The researchers found that raising either of these variables would make the subject perceived the chip as being fresher.

The whole experience of food and drink is a multisensory formulation. Color and viscosity will affect your perception of flavor of a juice. The primary sensation attributed to carbonated beverages is the irritation caused by chemical excitation of oral nociceptors. Your perception of moistness of a food is partly determined by mastication noises. These are only a few of the numerous factors that play into your daily experience of food and drink.

Tasty? Sure. Pepsi? Not quite.

Do you remember Crystal Pepsi? Pepsi did extensive research to create this clean-looking Pepsi, and it did well in test markets. But when it was released nationwide, the product flopped. One theory of its failure is that after taking the caramel color out of Pepsi, people’s perception of taste was muddled. It should be Pepsi, but it doesn’t “taste” like Pepsi. The end result was a Frankenstein beverage that people couldn’t embrace.

About the author

Ian Park

Ian graduated from Wesleyan University in May 2011 with a degree in Neuroscience and Behavior. In that same year, he was Director of Photography of a senior documentary thesis film at Wesleyan, which won first place. He recently acted as Director of Photography on a Clinique commercial for a competition--it won honorable mentions. He is currently working as a producer/director/editor of video and other digital content in Soho, NY, as well as working on a soon-to-be-released web series, "Postponed."

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