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Music can change the way you taste

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The background music you hear at a restaurant or in a shop may not be playing strictly for your entertainment, explains Professor Adrian North, Head of Psychology and Speech Pathology at Curtin.

In a study Professor North conducted, people were given a glass of wine and asked to drink it while listening to either no sound or one of four different types of music.

The four music categories were “refreshing” (Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague), “heavy” (Carmina Burana by Carl Orff), “subtle” (Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers), and “mellow” (Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook).

Drinkers were then asked to rate the taste of the wine according to these same four categories. “Ratings of the wine reflected the characteristics of the music that played in the background,” North explains, “for example, red wine was rated as 60% more “heavy” when people heard heavy music rather than no music and as 41% more subtle when people heard subtle music rather than no music.”

Professor North more recently conducted the same experiment, swapping wine for orange juice.

“If we played The Beach Boys from the stall offering the juice customers thought it came from California,” says North, “whereas if we played Chinese music they thought the juice came from China.”

The notion of association is not unique to composed music either. Professor North noted that when he played the sound of a babbling brook, customers regarded the orange juice as more fresh and thought that it could prevent a wider range of medical conditions than when he played the sounds of traffic in the background.

Research surrounding our strong psychological food-and-sound associations has been long known and used by restaurateurs, marketers and researchers alike.

Fine dining celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal tapped into this association technique a few years ago when he started serving seafood with an iPod playing sounds of the ocean.

North also notes that people tend to associate foods containing vinegar and lemon juice with high-pitched noises and foods like coffee and chocolate with low-pitched sounds.

Next time you hear a song while you’re drinking or eating, you might have a second thought about what’s playing.


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