Food can taste better when you’re really hungry. Now a study reveals another condition that can enhance the flavor of a meal: when it’s part of a ritual. Scientists asked volunteers to eat some chocolate. They told one group to relax for a few minutes, then eat the chocolate in any way they wanted. But another group was given these instructions: “Without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half. Unwrap half of the bar and eat it. Then, unwrap the other half and eat it.” And those who went through the more elaborate process rated the chocolate more highly, enjoyed it more, and were willing to pay more for it than the group who just ate it. Another experiment included a delay between the ritual and actually eating the food, and this further increased participants’ enjoyment of the food. [The study is in the journal Psychological Science.] The scientists found that personal involvement in a ritual is necessary. When subjects watched someone else prepare lemonade in an elaborate way, they did not experience an increase in their enjoyment of the drink. So, cut your own birthday cake, then hand out slices to everyone else, then taste your piece. It might seem like best thing you ever ate. —Christie Nicholson [The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] Follow Scientific American on Twitter @SciAm and @SciamBlogs. Visit ScientificAmerican.com for the latest in science, health and technology news.
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