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Eating vanilla yoghurt can make you happier

2 November 2015

Being pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised by the taste of something can change a person’s mood, according to research published by a European team in Food Research International. There is a growing conviction that emotional reactions to the consumption of foods or the perception of fragrances play an important role in the acceptance of products in the market. However, it is not clear how to measure this reliably. In an effort to find a simple method to measure implicit and unconscious emotional effects of food consumption, a number of methods were compared in an experiment in which 3 groups of at least 24 subjects were each exposed to a pair of yoghurts of the same brand and marketed in the same way, but with different flavours or fat content.

The methods used were eye tracking of the packaging, face reading during consumption, a new emotive projection test (EPT) and an autobiographical reaction time test based on mood congruency. The results revealed that liking or being familiar with a product had no effect on a person’s emotion. However, changes in whether they liked it after tasting the yoghurt did: being pleasantly surprised or disappointed about the food influenced people’s moods. The team also looked at the sensory effect of the yoghurts. There was no difference in the emotional responses to strawberry versus pineapple yoghurts, but low-fat versions led to more positive emotional responses. Most strikingly, vanilla yoghurt elicited a strong positive emotional response, supporting previous evidence that a subtle vanilla scent in places like hospital waiting rooms can reduce aggression and encourage relationships among patients and between staff and patients.

The findings suggest that the new method could be an effective way to gather information about a product before taking it to market. Traditionally, products have been trialled using explicit methods directly asking people how they feel. In contrast, the new method is implicit and therefore not controlled by a person’s conscious thought.

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