“Our results suggest that for people who regularly control their food consumption, direct touch triggers an enhanced sensory response, making food more desirable and appealing,” said study researcher Adriana Madzharov from Stevens Institute of Technology in the US.In her first experiment, Madzharov had 45 undergraduate students visually inspect and evaluate a cube of Muenster cheese, hold it before eating it and then asked them to answer questions about their eating behaviour.
Half of the participants used a pick and sampled a cheese cube with an appetiser while the other half sampled a cheese cube without pick.
Initially, the two groups did not indicate any difference.
The researchers found that participants who reported a high degree of self-control when consuming food — individuals who report that they can resist tasty foods and are conscious about what and how much they eat — when using their hands found the cheese tastier and more appetising.
Even when Madzharov manipulated participants’ thinking on self-control, goals and food consumption, these findings persisted, suggesting that a high degree of self-control influences how people experience food when they touch it directly with their hands — to show whether self-control is real or primed.
In the second experiment, the researchers separated a new set of 145 undergraduate students into two groups.The first group was told to imagine that they have decided to be more careful with their diet and cut back on excessive eating in order to achieve their long-term objective of being fit and healthy.
The second, that they had decided to worry less about their weight all the time and allow themselves to indulge in tasty foods more often in order to enjoy life and experience its pleasures.
All participants were given a plastic cup with four mini donuts inside it — only half of them were allowed to use their hands, while rest used picks.
As in the first experiment, the participants were then asked to visually inspect and evaluate the mini donuts on hedonistic qualities such as texture, freshness, quality and nutrition.
The researcher also instructed them to report their level of focus and attention when eating the mini donuts to get a measure of mindfulness and sensory experience.
The study found that when participants were primed with self-control (vs. indulgent) thinking, they evaluated the sampled food more positively than when they touched it directly with their hands.
It also suggests that the mechanism driving this effect was the enhanced sensory experience that participants reported in the direct touch or self-control condition.