Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Liking for spicy food and the “explorer” mentality

with 2 comments

I have fairly frequently commented on two mindsets: the explorer, who looks for any excuse to try something new (aka “thrill seeking), and the settler, who looks for any excuse to stick with what he has (aka “threat averse”). Looks like there’s a correlation with a fondness for spicy food. (Full disclosure: I am an explorer, and I like spicy food.)

Jennifer Abassi reports in Popular Science:

When I was a kid, I’d watch in awe as my dad ate dinner. It wasn’t just the heaps of food piled on his plate that impressed me. (The words “portion control” had yet to enter the public lexicon.) What always made me shake my head in disbelief was his curious habit of alternating bites of his meal with bites off a jalapeno pepper. To save time, he’d simply hold the pepper in one hand and his utensil in the other. I should also mention that my heritage is Indian, and that my mom served up traditional spicy dishes on a nightly basis. But it was never spicy enough for Dad.

I’d always assumed that he’d just burned all the taste buds off his tongue, leaving him desensitized to the pain I felt if a raw pepper came anywhere near mine. But the science of spicy food liking and intake — there’s a whole body of research dating back at least to the 1980s on this — shows there’s more to it than just increased tolerance with repeated exposure. Personality, researchers say, is also a factor in whether a person enjoys spicy meals and how often he or she eats them. The question is, how much of a factor?

Over the past few decades, culinary psychologists and other food researchers have proposed several cultural and biological reasons why we eat spices that may elicit pain, such as early learning, prior exposure, societal norms and physiological differences in taste and oral anatomy. Although desensitization to capsaicin, the plant chemical that gives peppers their burn, is well documented, there’s also evidence that the effect is surprisingly small.

“This suggests chili liking is not merely a case of increased tolerance with repeated exposure, but rather that there is an affective shift towards a preference for oral burn that is not found in chili dislikers,” write Nadia Byrnes and John Hayes, researchers at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, in a new study on spicy food consumption.
UPenn researchers have previously linked chili liking to thrill seeking, specifically an affinity for amusement park rides and gambling. Later, SUNY Stony Brook investigators found a relationship between chili liking and sensation seeking when using a more formal measure of personality called Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking Scale. In both cases, however, the associations were fairly weak, and neither study looked at intake — how often a person eats spicy foods, versus how much a person likes spice.

As part of a larger study on how the capsaicin receptor, TRPV1, influences oral sensations, Byrnes and Hayes decided to take another look at the psychology of so-called chili-heads. They used an updated measure of sensation seeking that avoided gender- and age-biased questions, as well as dated references (questions like “I would like to make friends in some of the ‘far-out’ groups like artists or ‘hippies’” were replaced with prompts like “I would have enjoyed being one of the first explorers of an unknown land”). They also introduced a four-point scale for responses, allowing for more nuance than the older yes/no response method.

Ninety-seven male and female participants ranging in age from 18 to 45 filled out a food-liking questionnaire and rated the intensity of sensations after sampling six stimuli, including capsaicin mixed in water. Later they took an online survey that included personality measures and asked how often they consume foods containing chili peppers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2012 at 4:40 pm

Posted in Food, Science

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I am a hardcore spicy food fan. However, if I overdo it, it becomes all too obvious to me.


    5 March 2020 at 8:08 am

  2. I with you on spicy.


    28 April 2020 at 12:34 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.