Filling the eye before the gut or eating with the eyes are expressions that at the time referred to a desire to eat above the physical possibilities of the stomach. These are phrases that fit the sensation that is perceived when we are in front of a large buffet- food, where we have plenty of dishes to choose from and the pleasure of looking at it is the prelude to what we know will be a great feast.
If we think about it, many of the best traditional dishes are not what is said especially aesthetic. The best lentils in the world can never compete visually, no matter how rich they are, with the appearance of contemporary dishes specially designed to captivate us by sight.
Throughout life, each person dedicates seven to eight years to activities related to food. Every time we eat our brain responds to this stimulus immediately. In the exercise of eating there is a cultural factor that helps explain our preferences for certain flavours and foods, but when we eat there is a spontaneous and involuntary response or activation in our brain.
With the aim of knowing how our brain responds to the practice of eating, a program called Canal Cocina in Spain has promoted a study of neuroscience about food and emotions in which a multidisciplinary team of scientists has participated: physiologists, neurologists, engineers, biologists and psychologists.
The study has analysed the brain activity and emotional response of people to food through Neuroscience, for which the brain has been analysed – where the flavours, smells or images of a particular food or dish are created – and has monitored neuronal activity in a representative sample of 40 people aged 18 to 80 years to learn how our brain responds to food stimulation.
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The study has been developed in two stages. In the first, the preferred foods of the Spaniards were selected through a market study. Ham, tortilla, traditional stews and chocolate were the chosen foods. A fifth record, the salmon tartare, was incorporated to this result in order to contrast the brain’s response to new flavours or unknown flavours. In a second stage, our brain response was analysed during visualisation and during the intake of previously selected foods and dishes.
The results obtained in each phase of the study have offered different key records to know how the brain responds when we test a food, if there are differences between the reactions of men and women or what foods or cooked dishes produce a greater emotional response.
- Good-looking food excites us. In just three seconds after tasting the food, the brain reaches the maximum values of emotional activation. This study reveals the existence of a strong emotional and involuntary activation in the brain, when we see the food and when we taste it, and consequently it can be affirmed that the food excites us. In addition, it demonstrates how each food presents different values of emotional activation and therefore the preference of one over the other.
- Chocolate is the food that most stimulates our brain. By analysing the response of the 40 people to the image and tasting of chocolate, the study concludes that chocolate is the food that generates a more intense emotional response, both in men and women, ahead of the rest (ham, tortilla , traditional stews and salmon tartare).
- Chocolate stimulates men’s brains more than women’s. Chocolate generates greater emotional activation in men than in women, both at the time of seeing it and at the time of trying it. 69% of the men in the study had a greater activation when they saw chocolate than when they saw the rest of the food images. In the case of women, this percentage stands at 62%.
- Chocolate stimulates our brain in a similar way to other images with a high degree of incitement. Chocolate has generated a greater response than other positive images of other content, such as sex, travel or sports. The attention levels obtained have been higher in the visualization of the chocolate image than in the visualisation of other images with a high degree of incitement.
- Men and women respond emotionally differently when they see and taste food. The study has collected a different emotional activation during the phases of visual stimulation and food intake between men and women. Food images have activated women’s brains from the outset, while men’s brains are not activated so much by seeing food and need to try them.
- Our brain is not conservative, it manifests a positive emotional response with the flavours it does not know. The brain responds positively to traditional flavours, but also to new flavours that it does not know or do not find usual. The activation caused by the tartare – an element that represents the less known flavours during the test -, despite not being very high in the visual stimulation phase, increased considerably in the food test phase.
- Women prefer traditional flavours and men prefer new flavours. The men’s brain has gained greater activation with chocolate and with the tartare – the least known flavours – ahead of ham, stew and potato omelette, traditional or usual flavours. In the case of women, brain activation has been more intense when tasting stew or traditional dishes, followed by chocolate.
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