following extracts have been chosen to cover a wide range of
preferences/likings. They include preferences of taste, smell,
environment, music, symmetry and beauty. One addresses the effect of
peers and parents on our preferences, and others look at the
differences between conscious and unconscious preferences. One thing to
notice is just how preferences change with time of day, time of the
month, developmental stage, gender, culture and environment.
have highlighted most of the words and phrases — about 50 in
all — which either directly mention preference/linking or
imply a preference/liking is involved in the process. Our aim is that
you get sense of the myriad of metaphors and expressions used, as well
as the experiential process that all of them point to.
Extract from 'The Science of Scrumptious' by Kathleen McGowan, Psychology Today
, Sep/Oct 2003. Full article: http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20030902-000003.htmlA recent anthropological analysis found that more than a third of us reject slippery food like oysters and okra. Twenty percent of us don't like our foods to touch on the plate. One-fifth of us eat from a palate of just 10 or fewer foods.In
the last few years new knowledge of the neurological highways that
connect gut and brain, combined with psychophysical studies probing the
perception of flavor, has shed light on the gourmand within. The study
of "hedonics" — the pleasure of eating — has determined that we are hardwired to prefer sweet and avoid bitter and that the love of fat seems to be an acquired taste.
The flavors we sample while we're still in the womb stay with us into
infancy and perhaps well beyond. And, as anyone who has heard the call
of a cream puff at 3 a.m. will not be surprised to hear, eating beloved foods stimulates some of the same neural pathways as addictive drugs. Other
research suggests that our stomachs may literally be thinking for us: A
sensory system in the gut sends subliminal messages to the brain about
what's good to eat and what's not.Understanding what we like to
eat, fascinating in its own right, may also help solve one of the
biggest health problems of our time: why we eat so much. If eating is
our first love, sugar is its handmaiden. Humans are born loving sweetness: On its very first day of life, a newborn prefers sweetened drinks to bland ones. Sugar's siren call can even block out pain — pediatricians have shown that newborns who have injections or blood drawn don't mind the needle as much when also given a sugar-coated pacifier to suck.Soon after birth, babies begin to reject intensely sour or bitter flavors. During the first few months, they also learn to appreciate fatty foods and recognize salty tastes. "Their taste world is organized into liking sweet, learning to like fat, and rejecting
— spitting out — bitter taste," says Adam
Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the
University of Washington in Seattle. As we age, we develop a taste for foods with hints of bitter, especially if they are sweet or fatty, like buttered Brussels sprouts or dark chocolate. Our palates all have the same five types of detectors, the same aversion to bitter and mania for sweet. So why are our individual preferences
so different? Monell Chemical Senses Center bio-psychologist Julie
Mennella, for one, thinks our proclivities are shaped at a very early
age. Her experiments show that we probably get our first taste of the
world through the amniotic fluid that shelters us and that this
prenatal experience carries over into the first year of life. If
pregnant women drank carrot juice daily during late pregnancy, Mennella
found, their babies at 6 months seemed to like
carrot-flavored cereal much more than other 6-month-olds. She and her
colleagues at Monell have also shown that nursing babies seem to detect
flavors like garlic, ethanol (from alcoholic drinks) and vanilla in
their mothers' milk. A baby who has never tasted garlic will suckle
longer the first time his or her mother eats it, presumably gathering
extra information about this peculiar new flavor. "Breast-fed babies whose mothers eat a wide range of foods are more likely to embrace new foods later on, her research has shown, and infants fed on harsh-tasting
formulas remain more tolerant of bitter and sour at age 4 or 5.
Mennella thinks this may be a hint as to how individual flavor preferences
begin developing. "Our olfactory memories are oldest, most resistant to
change," she says. "I think that underlies why certain foods are very
much preferred — they are associated with things that occur early in life.
Birch, the chair of Pennsylvania State University's department of human
development and family studies, has found that 5 to 10 experiences with
a new food is often enough for a kid to learn to love it.
Cravings — intense and specific longings for one particular food — probably also have more do to with culture and childhood than with a biological urge
for missing nutrients. In cross-cultural studies spanning three
continents, psychologists Scott Parker of the American University in
Washington, D.C., Debra Zellner of New Jersey's Montclair State
University, American University student Niveen Kamel and Ana
Garriga-Trillo of the Spanish national university UNED [discovered that
the most craved foods are:]
Men: Pizza , beef (followed by burgers, steak and cheesesteak)
Women: Cola, French Fries, chocolate
Men: Serrano ham, French fries, spaghetti
Women: Grape leaves and eggplant stuffed with rice and meat
Men: Molokhia soup, grilled fish
and culture don't account for all our individual variability, though.
"The correlation between parents' and their children's food preferences only goes so far," says food psychologist Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania. Pickiness, for example, seems to be highly idiosyncratic. In the first comprehensive survey of food pickiness
among adults, anthropologist Jane Kauer interviewed nearly 500 adult
Americans about their attitudes toward foods, food variety and eating habits. Kauer, who conducted the research as a doctoral student with Rozin, found that mild pickiness is quite widespread — about one-third of her volunteers described themselves as "unusually picky eaters."
It may not be surprising to learn that 60 percent of us like to leave our plates clean or that close to half of us eat just about the same thing for breakfast nearly every day. But stranger habits are also common. Many people refuse to drink while they eat. Others won't eat food that is lumpy or has a filling, like raviolis or egg rolls. Nearly 20 percent of us are repelled by raw tomatoes (something about the gooeyness inside the firmness), and about the same fraction of us simply don't like trying new foods.
In the course of her survey, Kauer found a few extremely picky
people. (One woman she interviewed, for example, ate little more than
canned brains, undercooked French fries and fried eggs.) Questioning the pickiest third further, Kauer identified a master list of foods that are almost universally accepted: fried chicken, French fries, chocolate chip cookies, and above all else, Kraft macaroni and cheese. ("People seem to respond to
the orange color," she says. "Maybe it's a signal that it's really fake
and therefore really safe.") Obviously, these are all classic comfort
foods, but more important for the picky person, they are unlikely to
have weird or surprising ingredients. "We all know what's in fried
chicken, for example, even if we get it from some place we've never
been before," she says.
Food habits are a deep part of identity, closer to religion than to biology. "We don't talk about it, but all of us have very strong feelings about what we eat and don't eat," Kauer says.
Extract from 'Chemistry & Craving'
by Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today
, Jan/Feb 1993. Full article: http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-19930101-000017.htmlYou
are what you eat. But if a behavioral scientist in New York is right, a
winning [eating] strategy can come only from a simple turn of the
tables — we eat what we are.
meticulous studies, Sarah F. Leibowitz, Ph.D., of The Rockefeller
University, has discovered that what we put in our mouths and when we
do it is profoundly influenced by a brew of neurochemicals based in a
specific part of our brain. Leibowitz has found that we have clear-cut cycles of preference
for high-carbohydrate and fat-rich foods, and they are closely linked
to reproductive needs — that is, the ability of humans to
survive from generation to generation.
from the brain to the belly are issued by way of neurochemical
messengers and hormones. These directives, Leibowitz finds, have their
own physiological logic, their own set of rhythms, and are highly
nutrient-specific. There's one thing now know for sure — the
stomach definitely has a brain.
A TASTE FOR CARBO
the dietary drama unfolding in Leibowitz's ground-floor laboratory,
there are two star players. One is Neuropeptide Y (NPY), a
neurochemical that dictates the taste for carbohydrate. Produced by neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN), it literally turns on and off our desire for carbohydrate-rich foods.
is the second star player in Leibowitz' studies. These have shown that
the amount of galanin an animal produces correlates positively with
what the animal eats in fat. And that correlates with what the animal's
body weight will become. The sexual hormone estrogen activates galanin.
"Estrogen just increases the production of galanin and it makes us want
to eat. It makes us want to deposit fat," says Leibowitz. The influence of estrogen on our taste for fat "is important in the menstrual cycle and in the developmental cycle, when we hit puberty."
OF TIME AND THE NIBBLER
two neurohormones of nibbling are not uniformly active throughout the
day. Each has its own built-in cycle of activity. Neuropeptide Y has
its greatest effect on appetite at the start of the feeding cycle
— morning, when we're just waking up.
Y is also switched on after any environmentally imposed period of food
deprivation — such as dieting. And by stress.
After carbohydrate turns on our engines, the desire for this nutrient begins a slow decline over the rest of the daily cycle. Around lunchtime, we begin looking for
a little more sustenance — fat to refill our fat cells and
protein to rebuild muscle. Our interest in protein rises gradually
toward midday, holds its own at lunch, and keeps a more or less steady
course during the rest of the day. After lunch, the taste for fat begins rising; it peaks with our heaviest meal, at the end of the daily cycle. That's when the body is looking to store energy in anticipation of overnight fasting.
THE BIG SWITCH
only are the neurochemicals of appetite active at different times over
the course of a day, they are differently active over the course of
development. Before puberty, Leibowitz finds, animals have no interest
in eating fat. Children, too, have little appetite for fat, preferring carbohydrates for energy and protein for tissue growth. But that, like their bodies, changes.
girls, the arrival of the first menstrual period is a milestone for
appetite as well as for sexual maturation. It stimulates the first desire for fat in foods. And that, says Leibowitz, is when a great deal of confusion sets in for anorexics.
There are other sex-based differences in nutrient preference. In studies of animals, young females tend to have higher levels of Neuropeptide Y and favor carbohydrates. Their preference for carbohydrates peaks at puberty. Males favor protein to build large muscles. When puberty strikes up the taste for fats, males are inclined to
mix theirs with protein — that sizzling porterhouse steak.
Women, their already high levels of Neuropeptide Y joined by galanin,
are set to crave high-calorie sweets — chocolate cake, say, or ice cream.
PATTERNS OF PREFERENCE
When Leibowitz allows animals to choose what they eat, they show marked individual preferences for
nutrients. These nutrient preferences, in turn, create specific
differences in feeding patterns. In this animals are just like people,
and fall into one of three general categories.
In about 50% of the population, carbohydrate is the nutrient of choice. Such people naturally choose
a diet in which about 60% of calories are derived from carbohydrate and
up to 30% come from fat. They are neurochemically in line with what
nutritionists today are recommending as a healthy diet.
High-carbohydrate animals consume smaller and more frequent meals, and
they weigh significantly less, than other animals.
A small number of people and animals are dedicated to protein.
But 30% of us have a predilection for
fat. And those who do take in 60 to 70% of their calories in straight
fat, as opposed to the 30% considered appropriate to a lifestyle that's
more sedentary than our ancestors'. Not only is this not likely to sit
well with arteries, but such preferences also correlate highly with body weight in animals. Those constituted to favor
fat consume the most calories and weigh the most. And they seem to be
particularly predisposed to food cravings late in the day.
What is perhaps most intriguing in all of this to Leibowitz is that individual taste preferences
first show themselves when animals are very young, notably at the time
of weaning, even before their neurochemical profiles are fully
elaborated. The same is true of people.
At the time of weaning — 21 days in rat pups, 1-1/2 to 2 years in human infants— taste preferences largely reflect differences in genetic makeup. And in those animals that prefer sucrose
or fat their appetite is strongly predictive of how much weight they
will gain later on in life. And their neurochemical make-up. "We
believe there is strong appetitive component to pre-ordained weight
gain," Leibowitz says. "We think there's more to it than just
metabolism. We are on the verge of linking that early taste with later
eating behavior and weight gain."
THE WAGES OF STRESS
These studies of nutrient preferences show that inborn patterns are one way we can be set up for eating problems or weight gain we might prefer not to
have. They also implicate another — stress. Stress
potentially wreaks havoc with our eating patterns by altering us
particularly tricky is that the effect of stress on eating is not
uniform throughout the day. A bout of stress at the right time in the
morning may keep Neuropeptide Y turned on all day. If there is no
muscular activity to use up the carbohydrate stress sets us up to eat,
the carbohydrate is put directly into storage as fat.
carbohydrate under stress, however, has something going for it. It
chases away the stress-induced changes in neurochemistry. The hormonal
alarm signals dissipate. "After we eat a carbohydrate-rich meal, the
world actually seems better," explains Leibowitz. We feel less edgy. "That's why we overeat."
DIETING — BAD FOR THE BRAIN
studies have shown that curbing body weight by food restriction
— dieting — makes no sense metabolically; in fact
it's counterproductive. Leibowitz finds it also makes no sense to the
biochemistry of our brains, either. "All dieting does is disturb the
system," she says emphatically. "It puts you in a psychologically
altered state. You're a different person. You respond differently."
Fasting or dieting drives the body to seek more carbohydrate.
deterministic biochemistry at first appears, that is not, within broad
bounds, the case with behavior. We are not wholly slaves of
neurochemistry. "Neurons are plastic. They change. We can therefore
educate the neurons" explains Leibowitz.
secret to modifying neurons is to introduce a very gradual shift in
their sensitivity to the neurochemicals of appetite— to
down-regulate them s-l-o-w-l-y. Given the plasticity of neurons, early
experience is heavily weighted in shaping the behavior of brain cells
for life. The bottom line is, we may be remarkably adaptable but not
Extract from 'The Smell of Love' by F. Bryant Furlow, Psychology Today
, Mar/Apr 1996
Full article: http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-19960301-000030.html
When a female mouse is offered two suitors in mate choice trials, she inevitably chooses to mate
with the one whose MHC (major histocompatibility complex) genes least
overlap with her own. It turns out that female mice evaluate males' MHC
profile by sniffing their urine. The immune system creates scented
proteins that are unique to every version of each MHC gene. These
immune by-products are excreted from the body with other used-up
chemicals, allowing a discerning female to sniff out exactly how closely related to her that other mouse is.
MHC-dissimilar mates, a female mouse makes sure that she doesn't
inbreed. She also secures a survival advantage for her offspring by
assuring that they will have a wider range of disease resistance than
they would had she mated with her brother. It's not that she seeks out diverse MHC genes for her young on purpose, of course. Ancestral females who preferred the smell of closely related males were simply outrun through evolutionary time by females who preferred the scent of unrelated sires.
CAN YOU SMELL THAT SMELL?
Since humans show little interest
in one another's urine, few researchers thought that the story of MHC
in rodent attraction could shed light on human interactions. But then
someone made an eyebrow-raising discovery: Human volunteers can
discriminate between mice that differ genetically only in their MHC. If
human noses could detect small differences in the immune systems of
mice (mice!) by giving the critters a sniff, excited researchers
realized, we may well be able to detect the aromatic by-products of the
immune system in human body odor as well!
team led by Claus Wedekind at the University of Bern in Switzerland
decided to see whether MHC differences in men's apocrine gland
secretions affected women's ratings
on male smells. The team recruited just under 100 college students.
Males and females were sought from different schools, to reduce the
chances that they knew each other. The men were given untreated cotton
T-shirts to wear as they slept alone for two consecutive nights. They
were told not to eat spicy foods; not to use deodorants, cologne, or
perfumed soaps; and to avoid smoking, drinking, and sex during the
two-day experiment. During the day, their sweaty shirts were kept in
sealed plastic containers.
then came the big smell test. For two weeks prior, women had used a
nasal spray to protect the delicate mucous membranes lining the nose.
Around the time they were ovulating (when their sense of smell is
enhanced), the women were put alone in a room and presented with boxes
containing the male volunteers' shirts. First they sniffed a new,
unworn shirt to control for the scent of the shirts themselves. Then
the women were asked to rate each man's shirt for "sexiness," "pleasantness," and "intensity of smell."
It was found, by Wedekind and his team, that how women rate a man's body odor pleasantness and sexiness depends upon how much of their MHC profile is shared. Overall, women prefer those scents exuded by men whose MHC profiles varied the most from their own. Hence, any given man's odor could be pleasingly alluring to one woman, yet an offensive turnoff to another.
Raters said that the smells they preferred
reminded them of current or ex-lovers about twice as often as did the
smells of men who have MHC profiles similar to their own, suggesting
that smell had played a role in past decisions
about who to date. MHC-similar men's smells were more often described
as being like a brother's or father's body odor... as expected if the
components of smell being rated are MHC determined. More surprising is
that women's evaluations of body odor intensities did not differ
between MHC-similar and MHC-dissimilar men. Body scent for
MHC-dissimilar men was rated as less sexy and less pleasant the stronger it was, but intensity did not affect the women's already low ratings for MHC-similar men's smells.
FOOLING MOTHER NATURE
Swiss researchers found that women taking oral contraceptives (which
block conception by tricking the body into thinking it's pregnant)
reported reversed preferences, liking more the smells that reminded them of home and kin. A woman may feel attracted to men she wouldn't normally notice if she were not on birth control — men who have similar MHC profiles.
Extract from 'Environmental Psychology' by R. De Young in D. E. Alexander and R. W. Fairbridge [Eds.] Encyclopedia of
. Hingham, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers (1999). Full article : http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rdeyoung/envtpsych.htmlPeople tend to seek out
places where they feel competent and confident, places where they can
make sense of the environment while also being engaged with it.
Research has expanded the notion of preference to include coherence (a
sense that things in the environment hang together) and legibility (the
inference that one can explore an environment without becoming lost) as
contributors to environmental comprehension. Being involved and wanting to
explore an environment requires that it have complexity (containing
enough variety to make it worth learning about) and mystery (the
prospect of gaining more information about an environment). Preserving,
restoring and creating a preferred environment is thought to increase sense of well being and behavioral effectiveness in humans.
Extract from 'Looking Good: The Psychology and Biology of Beauty' by Charles Feng, Psychology Today
, June 12, 2003
Full article: http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20030612-000002.html
Scientists say that the preference for symmetry is a highly evolved trait seen in many different animals. Female swallows, for example, prefer males with longer and more symmetric tails, while female zebra finches mate with males with symmetrically colored leg bands.
The rationale behind symmetry preference
in both humans and animals is that symmetric individuals have a higher
mate-value; scientists believe that this symmetry is equated with a
strong immune system. Thus, beauty is indicative of more robust genes,
improving the likelihood that an individual's offspring will survive.
This evolutionary theory is supported by research showing that
standards of attractiveness are similar across cultures.
to a University of Louisville study, when shown pictures of different
individuals, Asians, Latinos, and whites from 13 different countries
all had the same general preferences when rating others as attractive — that is those that are the most symmetric.
Aside from symmetry, males in Western cultures generally prefer
females with a small jaw, a small nose, large eyes, and defined
cheekbones - features often described as "baby faced", that resemble an
infant's. Females, however, have a preference
for males who look more mature —
generally heart-shaped, small-chinned faces with full lips and fair
skin. But during menstruation, females prefer a soft-featured male to a masculine one. Indeed, researchers found that female perceptions of beauty actually change throughout the month.
When viewing profiles, both males and females prefer a face in which the forehead and jaw are in vertical alignment. Altogether, the preference
for youthful and even infant-like, features, especially by menstruating
women, suggest people with these features have more long-term potential
as mates as well as an increased level of reproductive fitness.
Scientists have also found that the body's proportions play an important role in perceptions of beauty as well. In general, men have a preference
for women with low waist-to-hip ratios (WHRs), that is, more adipose is
deposited on the hips and buttocks than on the waist. Research shows
that women with high WHRs (whose bodies are more tube-shaped) are more
likely to suffer from health maladies, including infertility and
diabetes. However, as is often the case, there are exceptions to the
at Newcastle University in England have shown that an indigenous people
located in southeast Peru, who have had little contact with the Western
world, actually have a preference for high WHRs. These psychologists assert that a general preference for low WHRs is a byproduct of Western culture.
Extract from 'The Sound of Personality' by Colin Allen, Journal of Young Investigators
, Issue 6, December 2002
Full article: http://www.jyi.org/volumes/volume6/issue6/features/feng.html
person's album collection may actually say quite a lot about him. It
may be an indicator of personality traits, according to new research
published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study pinpoints musical tastes with respective attributes.
In the study, Rentfrow and colleagues surveyed 3,500 students, examining their musical tastes, along with their self-perceptions and mental acuity. He suggests that "Music preferences
are a manifestation of our personality," says lead author Peter J.
Rentfrow, a psychology graduate student at University of Texas in
Austin. He found that, when it comes to personality traits, there are
four major groups.
People who enjoy blues, jazz, classical and folk are more likely to be creative, open to new experiences and enjoy abstract ideas. They often lean politically to the left.
Rentfrow found those who liked
pop, country and religious music tend to be more extroverted, trusting
of others and hard working. They are often more practical and lean politically to the right.
People who prefer alternative music, rock and heavy metal are inclined to be physically active and adventurous.
Dance and hip-hop fans are apt to be more outgoing, athletic and agreeable, yet they were also more likely to view themselves as being physically attractive.
Extract from Peer Pressure by Elise Kramer, Psychology Today
, Sep/Oct 2004
Full article: http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20041118-000002.htmlYour
child's friends might influence him to work harder in school or say no
to drugs, but new research suggests that peers have little influence on
one's taste in food, music or television.
Rozin, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania,
recently tested whether third graders and college students develop tastes
similar to those of peers with whom they spend the most time.
He was surprised to find very low correlations between time spent
together and similarity of tastes. Roommates' preferences
did not converge over time, and a third grader's favorite foods or TV
shows were no more aligned with those of a close friend than with those
of a randomly chosen classmate.
Past studies show that even parents have minimal influence over their kids' tastes, which leaves the true source of preferences a mystery. Researchers are investigating the interplay of genes and environment.
Extract from 'Trusting Intuition' by Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today
, May 4, 2004
Full article: http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20040504-000001.htmlNonconscious
processes operate all the time in complex decision-making. Often
enough, we just don’t give them credit. Often we cite
rational-sounding criteria for our feelings and actions and do not
disclose the subjective preferences of feelings that arise spontaneously.
Sometimes we override our intuitive gut-level reactions altogether, ignoring our native responses in favor
of ways we think, for external reasons — such as to coincide
with the judgements of others—we should be reacting. Studies
have shown that we are capable of making sound judgements about food
and, often, people based on nonconscious processes, but if we
deliberately think about our preferences and decisions
we can make them worse. The truth is that all of the factors that
influence our reactions just aren’t available to our
Extract from 'Psychological test of unconscious candidate preference', Psychology at the University of Washington
, Feb. 24, 2000
Full article may be available at: A recently created website that measures candidate preferences reveals a lack of association between respondents' conscious and unconscious preferences.
The website, created by investigators at Yale University and the University of Washington, shows that test takers have a conscious preference for Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican John McCain.
However, a test of respondents' unconscious leanings reveals that they show the opposite implicit preference - a preference for Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush.
"These results are intriguing because of the discrepancy between conscious and unconscious preferences," said Yale Psychology Professor Mahzarin Banaji.
website, which opened on Nov. 7, 1999, has logged a total of more than
2,400 tests comparing various pairs of candidates. The same website,
created by Banaji, Brian Nosek, a graduate student at Yale, and Anthony
Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington,
also measures explicit and implicit biases about race, gender and age.
The measure of voters' explicit, or, conscious, attitudes shows Republicans favoring McCain over Bush 45 percent to 31 percent. Democrats in the same measure showed a preference for Bradley - 43 percent to 28 percent.
The measure of unconscious preference, however, differs: voters favored Bush over McCain 41 percent to 24 percent and Gore over Bradley 42 percent to 28 percent.
In taking the online test, respondents are first asked to state their conscious preference
for one of two candidates within a pair that the respondent had
selected for comparison, for example, Bush vs. McCain, Bradley vs.
Gore. Respondents also were asked to report party affiliation as
Republican, Democrat or independent. Each respondent then completed a
test designed to measure unconscious preference, using a technique in which speed to associate pleasant and unpleasant items with candidates' names and faces was measured.
"Preferences for candidates from opposing parties are consistent with our expectation - on both conscious and unconscious measures of preference Republicans favor Republican candidates over Democratic candidates and Democrats show the expected reverse pattern," Banaji said.
But why the discrepancy between conscious and unconscious preferences? The investigators believe that conscious preferences reflect the attitudes, beliefs and values one can explicitly articulate. Unconscious, or implicit attitudes,
on the other hand, may reflect more subtle influences, such as a
candidate's fame and visibility, family name, and other factors that
are not available to conscious awareness.
and Greenwald said it remains to be seen which attitude —
conscious or unconscious - reflects what voters will actually do when
it is time to cast their ballots.