Mediocre main dishes taste even worse when they follow delectable appetizers—an example of the so-called "hedonic effect." Erika Beras reports
Lots of things influence how your dinner may taste to you: how it’s presented on a plate, how hungry you are and of course, your taste buds. But researchers wanted to know if early courses—appetizers—influence the taste of a meal, and truly do whet your appetite.
Researchers had 64 volunteers eat one of two meals. The meals were the same—bruschetta as an appetizer and an entrée of pasta with garlic and oil. The pasta that everyone got was prepared to be only so-so. But some of the volunteers first got a bruschetta that was made to be mediocre, while the others got one that was stellar.
Then the volunteers rated the meals. And people who ate the good appetizer thought their entrée was even worse than did people who had the middling appetizer. The study is in the journal Food Quality and Preference. [Jacob Lahne and Debra A. Zellner, The great is the enemy of the good: Hedonic contrast in a coursed meal]
This work builds on previous studies that have focused on the perception of food and drink, and other sensory experience. In one investigation for example, researchers found that hearing a loud sound first then makes a soft sound seem to sound even softer.
Researchers call this effect hedonic contrast—the perception or pleasure gained from something is affected by how it compares to other similar stimuli. Maybe keep that fact in mind—or on the tip of your tongue—next time you plan your courses.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]