Effort Used to Get Food Makes it Taste Better

Summary
The more effort someone puts into procuring something of pleasure, such as food, the greater the value the object acquires. While this behavior has been noticed in most species, what exactly causes this behavior is still unknown. This study was undertaken to assess the cause behind such behavior in laboratory mice. Results from the experiment showed that food that was obtained with greater effort was of a higher value to the animal. Researchers analyzed the licking of the food and observed that the mice found these foods more palatable.

Introduction
Theories of preferences of pleasurable items suggest that when harder work is put into achieving an outcome, it acquires greater value and the subject prefers it over other items. This study was conducted to estimate the relationship between the amount of effort that mice had put into getting food, and the value that the animal placed on that particular food item. The larger scope of this study was to assess whether increasing the effort to obtain a low-calorie healthy food would ensure more palatability and greater preference. This study also attempted to understand the mechanism that lies behind this phenomenon of preference.

Methodology

  • There were two experiments. For experiment one, all mice were trained to press a simple paddle or lever. When the left one was pressed the animal received polycose solution as a reward along with a tone. On pressing the right lever the animal received sugared water and a simultaneous high pitched noise. The left lever required lower effort than the right lever. Total amount of each solution consumed was measured.
  • In experiment two, the mice received either a high-calorie food or a low-calorie food at the two levers. One set of mice received 6 percent solution of polycose (high-calorie) and 1 percent sugar or sucrose (low-calorie). Another set received 5 percent sucrose (high-calorie and 2 percent polycose (low-calorie).
  • Results/key findings

  • Results from experiment one showed that there was no difference in the consumption of either item offered in spite of the difference in effort. However, when free access to both items was allowed later in the experiment, the mice initially chose the lever that required more effort.
  • Results from experiment two showed that if higher efforts were required to obtain the low-calorie food, the mice went for it. Mice found the low-calorie food more palatable and appetizing, as seen with increased licking of the low-calorie/high-effort food.
  • Next steps/shortcomings
    Authors agree that the preference of the high-effort food may be due to the fact that mice found it tastier. They write that there is scope for further studies that explore decision making when it comes to food choices and also appetite changes with the availability and affordability of food.

    Conclusion
    This study implies that when more efforts are spent on acquiring a food, it acquires a higher value. It also shows that when food is abundant, a particular low value food item may be rejected. However, when food is scarce, the same food item might be cherished. An increase in palatability of lower energy foods, due to the increased effort of getting them, could increase consumption as well as enable more comprehensive learning of the prevailing indications in the environment. It was “observed that greater effort augments both consummatory and appetitive behaviors, which are generally thought to rely on different neural systems.” This study could be used by food and consumer behavior-related experts who can perhaps devise methods to ensure consumption of healthier, low-calorie foods by making them difficult to obtain.

    For More Information:
    Greater Effort Boosts the Affective Taste Properties of Food
    Publication Journal: Proceedings of The Royal Society of Biological Sciences, November 2010
    By Alexander W. Johnson; Michela Gallagher; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

    *FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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