Does Food Taste Better When You're Stressed?

Written by Emi Boscamp

After a long week of work, how good does a nice, long sip from your favorite drink taste?

Nope, that wasn't a rhetorical question — because, apparently, it tastes just as good as it normally does.

A new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition suggests that though you might go to great lengths to satisfy a craving when you're stressed, you're unlikely to enjoy the indulgence any more than someone who isn't stressed.

For the study, researchers recruited 36 self-proclaimed chocolate lovers, all in college. According to the APA press release, they asked one group of students to keep one hand in ice water while being observed and videotaped in order to induce stress. Another group of students had to keep their hands in lukewarm water. Both before and after the task, researchers collected saliva samples from the participants and tested them for levels of cortisol, the stress response hormone.

After the stress conditioning, the participants were told to press a handgrip for the chance to smell the chocolate when shown a particular symbol. From this, the researchers could determine how much energy each student exerted in order to smell the chocolate. They then asked the students how pleasing they found the odor of the chocolate.

The authors found that those placed under more stressful circumstances exerted three times as much effort to smell the chocolate than those in the less stressful situation, but both groups reported enjoying the smell of the chocolate about the same amount.

In other words, people will do unspeakable things to slake a particular thirst if they're under a lot of pressure, but that doesn't make them appreciate it any more once they get it.

Then again, this study only involved smelling chocolate — not eating it. Take it with a grain of salt (mmm, that would be yummy with some chocolate). But the findings do make sense. When you thoughtlessly scarf down a bag of pita chips with a container of hummus, do you really savor every bite? No, each bite likely blurs into the next, becoming indistinguishable.

So the next time that familiar wave comes over you, don't let your mind trick you. That pickle jar (in my case) is probably not going to lift all the weight off your shoulders in a series of euphoric crunches.

(h/t New York Magazine)

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