Did you see the New York Times article
Rituals Make Our Food More Flavorful by Catherine Saint Louis published August, 2013?
Here is a a portion of the article that describes an experiment.
For the first experiment, 52 students were randomly assigned to two groups. In one group, participants were asked to break a chocolate bar in half, wrapper and all, then to open one of the halves and eat it, followed by unwrapping the remaining half and eating that. The other group relaxed for a bit then ate the bar.
The camp that followed the two-step ritual rated their pleasure higher, and the chocolate more flavorful, than those who just ate their bars. They also said they would be willing to pay 25 cents more, on average, for the bar and took longer to savor it.
The second experiment, of 105 students, investigated whether any old movement had positive effects compared with another ritual devised by the researchers. This time lowly carrots, rather than chocolate, were used.
Before eating a carrot, some of the students always performed a standard ritual, which involved knocking twice before grabbing a bag of baby carrots, followed by another two knocks, taking a deep breath, and eating a carrot. Others performed that sequence only once, instead performing other gestures like turning their heads, snapping their fingers and clenching their fists.
To see if waiting would heighten anticipation for a four-calorie root crop, some students had to wait between carrot No. 2 and No. 3. Others didn’t. Incredibly, repeating the knocking-breathing ritual heightened subjects’ anticipation of a mini carrot.
The rituals concocted by researchers were silly-looking and deliberately irrelevant to the eating or drinking that followed, but nevertheless proved powerful. “Compared to just doing random gestures, doing nice systematic gestures brings them into a mindset that they are performing a ritual, and that led participants to enjoy carrots more than they would otherwise,” said Kathleen Vohs, the lead author of the paper and a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota.
Another experiment found that watching someone perform a ritual, say removing the wrapping on a wine bottle and uncorking it, does not heighten a spectator’s relish of their glass of zinfandel — only the pleasure of the bottle uncorker is enhanced. For the study, researchers had people mix lemonade and found that the act enhanced enjoyment for a drink mixer. But people who watched someone else prepare lemonade did not find the drink as flavorful.
A final experiment asked students how fun or interesting eating the chocolate was, confirmed that one reason food rituals enhance flavor and enjoyment is their ability to focus people’s interest on the ensuing consumption. The researchers called this focus “involvement.”
The study’s findings raise intriguing possibilities. Could rituals make often-maligned vegetables like broccoli worth savoring? Will my preschooler savor green beans if I start framing the border of his plate with them or if we sing a ditty in their honor before digging in?
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