I’ve just found a 2008 review article on the multisensory perception of flavour that is full of fascinating examples of taste illusions and demonstrates the surprisingly complexity of the gustatory system.
The following is one of my favourites. The article first makes the interesting observation that the majority of odour names refer to objects and most non-object odour names like ‘acrid’ and ‘pungent’ actually refer not to smell but to felt sensation.
Another manifestation of the object-based nature of olfactory perception is the constant error made, when eating, of attributing to taste what really belongs to the sense of smell. The error of localizing the odors coming from food as originating in the mouth has been termed the olfactory illusion. It has been compared to the ventriloquism effect, that is, the influence of visual cues on the identification of the location of a sound source. Green (2001) has provided a similar explanation for the fact that although flavor is perceived by receptors on the tongue, in the nose, and even in the eyes, the brain interprets the overall sensation as originating from within the mouth. According to Green, all of the sensory information is localized in the mouth in order that we associate this information with the food being consumed, in the same way that we typically use both touch and vision to localize a point on our bodies.
The paper is by psychologists by Malika Auvray and Charles Spence and it’s sadly locked – but someone has handily a put a pdf online.
Link to journal hosted locked article (via @velascop)
pdf of full text.
One thought on “Taste illusions”
Given that learning is a discriminative process aiming at valuing informative relations and ignoring uninformative ones, these results are by no means a surprise or discovery of any sort, as to the degree that, say, vanilla is informative about sweetness, it simply IS sweet (not associated with sweetness), as it’s independence hasn’t been experienced to tell odor and taste (and other sensations) apart. Or, in the words of William James (Principles of Psychology, 1890):
[A]ny number of impressions, from any number of sensory sources, falling simultaneously on a mind which has not yet experienced them separately, will fuse into a single undivided object for that mind. The law is that all things fuse that can fuse, and nothing separates except what must. What makes impressions separate we have to study in this chapter. Although they separate easier if they come in through distinct nerves, yet distinct nerves are not an unconditional ground of their discrimination, as we shall presently see. The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; and to the very end of life, our location of all things in one space is due to the fact that the original extents or bignesses of all the sensations which came to our notice at once, coalesced together into one and the same space. There is no other reason than this why “the hand I touch and see coincides spatially with the hand I immediately feel” (p. 488)