Not a good idea: eating in front of the TV dampens the sense of taste. The result: You need more and more spicy foods - and they make you fat. Photo: Thinkstock
Now everyone knows: Multitasking is not such a good idea. Somehow, you do not do anything right and you can not give the individual tasks the attention they really need. Apparently this is unfavorable when it comes to eating, as two Dutch researchers have now shown: concentrating on a difficult task suffers from the sense of taste - the flavors appear flatter and less intense. The problem with this: To compensate, you eat more automatically. Nearly 100 students recruited Reine van der Wal and Lotte van Dillen from the Universities of Nijmegen and Leiden for their test series. You wanted to know: is taste perception less well perceived than usual, if you have to remember a complicated sequence of numbers? So they each gave their subjects two different concentrations of sour lemon juice or sweet grenadine syrup or had them nibble crackers with and without salted butter. At the same time, the test participants should remember either a seven-digit number or letter combination or a single digit or letter. Then, on a scale of one to seven, they had to indicate how sweet, salty or sour the food had been.

Busy brain, inattentive sense of taste

Despite the rather simple experimental set-up, the researchers were able to measure a clear effect of the two different tasks: If the participants worked on the longer number, they rated the taste as less intense, for all three flavors. The effect was not huge - even the biggest difference was less than 1.5 points on the scale - but statistically it was definitely significant, the researchers emphasize.

In addition, the taste attenuation was apparently not only of academic interest, but also had direct effects, showed two more tests. In the first, the psychologists observed how many crackers, with and without salted butter, consumed subjects during the light and heavy tasks. Result: Without the salty spread, there was no difference between the two conditions. In contrast, the subjects fed about 60 percent of the biscuits with salt when faced with the difficult task. In contrast, only just under 45 percent of the light weight. Something similar also showed the second additional test in which the researchers asked the test participants to put together a grenadine-water mixture according to their personal taste. Again, it turned out that those who had to concentrate heavily on the memory test gave more sweet syrup into their drink than with the lighter task - although the evaluation of the drinks subsequently turned out to be exactly the same. display

When calculating everything tastes bland

In conclusion, one can derive from these results: At the same time doing something demanding while eating is at the expense of the sense of taste and makes the flavor of the food flat and less intense, according to the duo. Nevertheless, to achieve the desired taste impression, you must either increase the amount consumed or increase the concentration of certain flavors. This is probably the dilemma that causes almost all multitasking problems: there is only a limited amount of attention that can be allocated to the different tasks. If one needs relatively much for one activity, then there is little left over for everything else.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, at first glance it appears that this principle also extends to sensory impressions. Because one should think that the sense of taste is actually a purely physical matter - after all, a taste impression comes about through the interaction of flavors and taste receptors. However, earlier studies had shown that tasting is such a thing. In fact, a taste impression is created by the fact that the brain accumulates the input of all senses that perceive a food - eye, sometimes ear, nose and touch. And for this compilation you need some capacity, according to the researchers.

Dick because of too much multitasking?

They think it quite possible that the phenomenon now observed in the laboratory at least has a share in the current overweight epidemic. For the sentence attributed to the late Luciano Pavarotti, "One of the nicest things in life is that we regularly have to stop doing whatever we're doing to focus our attention on food" is less and less true. In recent years, it has become increasingly common to do something else while eating - working, watching TV, reading, listening to music, and the like. At the same time, in many restaurants, the amount of salt and fat in food has risen significantly, according to the scientists may be a direct result of the lost food culture. It may therefore be worthwhile to pay attention to the circumstances in which programs are taken against the obesity in which the meals are taken and to turn off multitasking when eating as much as possible.

Reine van der Wal (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) and Lotte van Dillen (Leiden University): Psychological Science, online pre-publication, doi: 10.1177 / 0956797612471953 Ilka Lehnen-Beyel

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