Eating while distracted is well known to cause overindulgence, as confirmed by a recent review of 24 studies published in April 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The exact mechanism behind such mindless bingeing, however, has been unclear. A recent study in Psychological Science suggests that mentally taxing tasks dampen our perception of taste, causing us to eat more. In four experiments, participants attempted to memorize either a seven-digit number (a heavy load on the brain) or one digit (a light cognitive load) while tasting salty, sweet and sour substances and rating each food's taste intensity. In all experiments, participants under the heavy cognitive load rated each type of taste as less intense, and they also ate more of the sweet and salty substances. The researchers believe cognitive load may compete with sensory input for our attention. Other studies have found that simply paying mindful attention to one's food—fully focusing on its taste, aroma and texture, for example—leads to less intake. This study adds yet another reason not to multitask at mealtime: your food will taste better.
This article was originally published with the title "Food Tastes Bland while Multitasking" in SA Mind 25, 2, 11 (March 2014)