It turns out that we don’t just feast with our mouths: Sight, touch and hearing increase our enjoyment of food. That’s according to Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, who spent more than a decade studying the ways in which all of the senses enhance the experience of eating. He’s found that we perceive potato chips with a louder crunch to be fresher; that adding weight to a plastic yogurt container can make the food within seem more filling; and that red light can increase our perception of fruity notes in wine.
His most recent research revealed that what we hear can impact our perception of beer flavors. In an experiment conducted earlier this year, he found that participants rated the same Belgian brew significantly sweeter while listening to a melodious, high-pitched soundtrack than when they heard songs that were dissonant or lower in pitch.
Here’s how he explains the discrepancy: “If you look at humans, chimpanzees, rats or any other species at birth, if you put a sweet taste on the newborn’s tongue, all those creatures will stick their tongues out and up, as they try to lick in and ingest the sweetness,” Spence says. Those same species, he says, will stick their tongues out and down—⏤the classic ‘blech!’ motion—⏤as they try to eject bitter flavors that their brains recognize as poisonous.
“If I play a higher-pitched sound, that may be more consistent with the sort of noises a baby makes with a sweet taste on its tongue, so your attention may be drawn to sweetness,” Spence continues. “If I play lower-pitched sounds, that seems to draw your attention to bitter notes.”
Similar studies on the relationship between music and beer have shown that:
If you like the music you’re listening to, you’re more likely to enjoy the beer you’re tasting. “We call this ‘affective ventriloquism’—the idea that I’m transferring what I think about one thing to something else,” Spence says. “If I like the music, that makes me think better things about the beer, and if I really dislike the music, that’s going to bring my enjoyment of the beer a bit lower.”
Region-specific music can enhance regional drinks.
“We’ve known for years that if I play French music, a wine might taste more authentically French to you,” he says. “We know that when we play the sounds of the sea, that can enhance the taste of seafood.”
You’ll drop more money for Mozart.
“There are hotel restaurants who’ve run with research that says you spend more if you’re listening to classical music than if you’re listening to the Top 40.”
Faster music fills you up more quickly.
“The higher the number of beats per minute, the faster people tend to eat and drink.”