Food tastes better if you have worked for it
Published 08/11/2010 | 10:59
The feeling that you have earned a reward actually increases the pleasure you take from it, a new study suggests.
The conclusion comes from research that found food actually tastes better if you feel that you have worked for it.
Now the authors believe this principle could be used to train people to like more healthy food over sugary and fatty snacks.
Alexander Johnson, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said: "Basically, what we have shown is that if you have to expend more effort to get a certain food, not only will you value that food more, but it might even taste better to you.
"At present, we don't know why effort seems to boost the taste of food, but we know that it does, and this effect lasts for at least 24 hours after the act of working hard to get the food."
"This suggests that, down the road, obese individuals might be able to alter their eating habits so as to prefer healthier, low calorie food by manipulating the amount of work required to obtain the food."
It is commonly accepted that we appreciate something more if we have to work hard to get it, and the latest research in the US bears that out ---- at least when it comes to food.
The study seems to suggest that hard work can even enhance our appreciation for fare we might not favour, such as the low-fat, low calorie variety.
At least in theory, this means that if we had to navigate an obstacle course to get to a plate of carrots, we might come to prefer them over sweets, crisps and chocolate.
The experiments, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, were on mice but it is believed they are transferable to humans.
In the first test, mice were trained to respond to two levers, one that had to be pressed just once to reward them with a sugary treat and the other fifteen times to deliver a similar snack.
When later given free access to both titbits the rodents clearly preferred "the food that they worked harder for," Mr Johnson said.
In the second experiment Mr Johnson and Professor Michela Gallagher wanted to find out whether the animals' preference for the harder-to-obtain food would hold if those morsels were low-calorie.
So half the mice received healthier goodies from a high-effort lever and the others got them from a low-effort one.
When both groups were given free access to the low-calorie food later, those who had used the high-effort lever ate more of it - and even seemed to enjoy it more than did the other group.
Mr Johnson said: "We then analysed the way in which the mice consumed the food. Why did we do this? Because food intake can be driven by a variety of factors including how it tastes, how hungry the mice were beforehand, and how 'sated' or full the food made them feel."
Mr Johnson and Prof Gallagher used licking behaviour as a measure of the rodents' enjoyment of their treats.
IT found the mice that had to work harder for their low-calorie rewards did were more likely to keep likcing their lips and savouring it.