Personality, Not Taste Buds, Determine How You Feel About Spicy Foods

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online
Anyone who’s ever dared to eat the ‘Suicidal’ chicken wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY knows the painful rush that comes with every deliciously fiery bite, and a new study from Penn State researchers suggested that the thrill-seekers among us are the most inclined to like the spicy stuff.
According to the report, which was presented at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo, people who are more open to unique and intense situations are more likely to enjoy spicy foods.
Conducted by Nadia Byrnes, a doctoral candidate at Pennsylvania State University, the study included over 180 participants between the ages of 18 and 45. They were given the Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking (AISS) survey to rate their thoughts on engaging in unique and intense experiences, which Byrnes and her team used to determine participants’ risk preferences.
Statements like, “I can see how it would be interesting to marry someone from a foreign country,” were used to test a participant’s proclivity for unique situations, while a statement like, “When I listen to music, I like it to be loud,” was used to gauge someone’s feelings about intense sensations.
Those participants with the lowest AISS scores were considered to be risk-aversive and not likely to engage in new situations, while those scoring highest were considered to be risk-takers and more open to new experiences.
After taking the AISS test, the volunteers were given 25 micrometers of capsaicin in food, and asked to rate how much they liked what they were eating over the course of the meal, as the burning sensation became more intense. The researchers found that as time passed, participants with lower than average AISS scores quickly began to dislike the food, while those with above average scores liked the food throughout the course of the meal. Participants with average scores also started to dislike the food but not as quickly as those with the lowest scores.
“Theoretically, we know that burn intensity and liking are linear related. The more irritating a compound or food gets, the less people should like it,” Byrnes said. “But that’s not always the case.”
Byrnes’ study builds on her previous study published in April that included 97 volunteers who also took the AISS test. These study participants were then asked to rate the intensity of six different food stimuli, one of which included diluted capsaicin. They then completed questionnaires on how often they ate spicy foods.
According to that study, which was published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, a person’s proclivity for spicy foods depends on “social influences, repeated exposure to capsaicin, physiological differences in chemosensation and personality.”
The study also found that people who liked spicy foods felt the burn just as much as those who said they didn’t.
During the same panel in which Byrnes presented her latest study, Shane McDonald, a chemist at food research and development company Kalsec, discussed the addition of “tingling” spices to foods. Citing a traditional Szechuan cuisine that combines the heat of chili peppers with the tingling sensation of Szechuan peppers, McDonald said tingling sensations could be effectively marketed by American food manufacturers.