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Attention in flavour perception What it means and why it is important


Macquarie University, Department of Psychology, Sydney, NSW2109, Australia


The flavour of food is ultimately a product of the brain. The brain combines sensory information from taste, smell and touch to generate our perception of flavour, and how it does this is currently a hot topic in psychology and neuroscience. One current focus is on attention. Attention dictates what is and is not experienced, something of central importance if for example you want to change a product’s formulation. The role of attention in flavour perception is the focus of this article, alongside its implications for sensory evaluation, consumer experience and formulation changes to improve diet.


The flavour of food depends as much on the brain as it does the skill of the cook. While the nature of the ingredients, the way it is cooked and so on clearly influences what can be perceived, it is the brain that brings together information from the senses of taste, smell and mouth feel (touch) to create flavour (1). Consideration of how flavour is created in the brain has interested psychologists for over a century. In the last decade the psychological processes that generate flavour are beginning to be understood. Amongst these the focus has recently shifted to the role of attention, which has been found to be important in understanding similar problems in other sensory systems. Attention is the capacity to focus on one thing, location or sense. This can be voluntary, as with your attention to these words or involuntary, such as when a phone rings and the noise commands attention to the exclusion of other things. Attention is important in psychology because it is intimately connected with consciousness. What we attend often equates to what we experience (2). Consequently, attention is of great practical significance. It can dictate what w ...

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