When taste and health compete, taste has a hidden advantage
You walk into a store for a quick snack, notice an apple, and finally end up buying a chocolate bar. Poor self-control may not be the only factor behind your choice, new research suggests. That’s because our brain first processes taste information before considering health information, according to new research from Duke University.
“We spend billions of dollars every year on dietary products, but most people fail when they try to diet,” said study co-author Scott Huettel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “Taste seems to have an advantage that prepares us for failure.”
“For many individuals, health information enters the decision-making process too late (relative to taste information) to determine the choices for the healthier option.”
The new work, published on July 5 in Nature Human Behavior, describes the advantage that taste has over health in the decision-making process.
“I’ve always assumed that people make unhealthy choices because it’s their preference or because they’re not very good at self-control,” said study co-author Nicolette Sullivan. “But it seems that it is not just a matter of self-control. Health information is harder to get to the brain – it takes longer to include it in the decision-making process.”
For the study, researchers recruited 79 young adults with an average age of 24.4 years. Study participants were asked to fast four hours before the experiment to make sure they were hungry.
Participants were asked to rate snacks according to taste, how healthy they are and how attractive they are. Pairs of food were then presented, and they were asked to choose between them. Study participants recorded taste information at the beginning of the decision-making process – taking an average of about 400 milliseconds to incorporate taste information. It took study participants twice as long to incorporate information about the health of a snack into their decisions.
It may not seem like much, but in many cases, it is enough to change the choice we make. “Not every decision is made quickly – buying houses, going to college – people take the time to make such choices,” Huettel said. “But a lot of the decisions we make are quick – for example, when you pick a product off the shelf or click on something.”
The authors say their findings could apply to other options, not just food. For example, some financial decisions, such as saving and spending options, can also be affected by how the brain processes different types of information.
But the good news is that not everything is lost in the war on junk food. Half of the study participants received various information before the experiment, which emphasized the importance of a healthy diet. These participants were less likely to choose an unhealthy snack.
The study authors also identified a simple method that can help people in their food choices: slowing down the decision-making process. When study participants spent more time weighing options, they tended to choose healthier options.
“There may be ways to create environments so that people have more time to make healthy choices,” Huettel said. “We want to find easy ways for people to think about food health, which would help them make better decisions.”
The Dahna application is such an environment, which gives you time to choose your desired menus for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, providing you with hundreds of ideas that are more and more diverse. Download it now for free from the AppStore or Google Play.