As it’s the holiday season and a lot of you may be thinking about throwing Christmas parties, I thought I’d do a relevant post this week – about how psychology can be used to enhance our perceptions of food and drink.
There’s actually been a lot of a research on this topic, which is then used by restaurants to make us enjoy our dining experience more, and ultimately spend more money!
Much of this research has been carried out by a psychologist called Charles Spence, who found that the way we perceive our food and drink affects its taste. He was part of a research team which found that the weight of a glass affects our perception of the drink inside, with lightness associated with cheapness – therefore, if you put your gin and tonic in a heavier glass, people will assume the quality of the alcohol is better, and so will prefer its taste. People also prefer wine if it came from a heavier bottle, and beer if it is drank from a bottle rather than a can.
The feel of the quality of the cup or glass also has an effect on people’s perception of its contents. For example, Krishna and Morrin (2008) found that when people were served water in a flimsy plastic cup, but either drank it with a straw (without touching the cup) or picked the cup up, the participants who did not touch the cup rated the water as being of a better quality.
This effect of the weight and quality of the container on perception has also been found to occur with food. In one study (Piqueras-Fiszman et al 2011), participants tasted yoghurt which was put in 3 bowls, which were identical apart from the fact they were different weights. They had to hold the bowl as they ate, and had to rate each yoghurt on which one they preferred (the yoghurts were of course, exactly the same). Results showed that the yoghurt from the heaviest bowl was liked 13% more by the participants than yoghurt from the lightest bowl.
So why does this effect occur? It is thought to be in part due to sensation transference, with perceptions of the glass or bowl being high quality and expensive being transferred to the food or drink they are containing. As well as this, the drinker needs to be aware of the shape or size of the glass, in order to make a judgement about its quality. Again, higher quality of material = higher quality judgement on the contents.
So what is the secret to making the perfect gin and tonic? Put it in a heavier glass and enjoy!