Sweet Wine Preference: The New Personality Test?

This week wraps up with a short and sweet (pun intended) article looking at personality traits and dietary preferences in humans, specifically whether or not a preference for sweet tastes in white wines dictates the type of personality one expresses.

The title of today’s article under review is:

Sweet taste preference and personality traits using a white wine; by A.J. Saliba et al.

Introduction

There has been a great deal of work done on the causes of poor dietary choice, including biological, learned, cultural, and socioeconomic influences.  One novel approach to this type of work is looking at personality traits and how they might affect diet choices in humans. 

Most of the studies done to date have focused on what is known as the “Big Five” theory of personality, which include the traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.  It is speculated that the first two, openness and conscientiousness, play a role in determining taste preferences in humans.

One study in Japan found that those with a preference for sweet and salty foods showed high levels of neuroticism, though there is the possibility of sampling bias in this study, since there were five times as many females as males (and were all Japanese), and that trait may not be universal across all sexes or cultures.

To date, most studies have used a system of self-reporting when determining personality traits of individuals.  One negative impact of this design is that individuals may not report their preferences with complete honesty, with those traits that are more socially desirable coming across as more prevalent (which may not actually be the case).  In the study reviewed here, they expanded upon that experimental design, by using hedonic ratings to determine whether or not specific personality traits determine sweet taste preference or not.  In other words, the questions asked to individuals were not simply “do you portray a certain personality type”, but “to what extent do you portray a certain personality type”.

This study focused on wine and wine tasting, in order to minimize effects of social desirability.  In other words, to most people, wine does not illicit an “is this healthy for me?” response, thereby using wine would not cause any confounding preferences due to its health status alone.

The goals of this study were to answer the following questions:

·         Do participants with a preference for sweet taste in white wine exhibit stronger impulsive or other personality traits?

·         They predict that a sweet preference will be more prevalent in individuals with the traits of venturesomeness and extraversion.

·         Finally, they predict that individuals with a sweet taste preference will report higher levels of neuroticism, as shown by previous research.

Methods

After results of a wine preference test, study participants were placed in either a sweet preference group, or a dry preference group.

There were a total of 45 participants in the study, hailing from around Sheffield Hallam University or a local golf club in the UK.  The mean age was 42.7 years (standard deviation of 20.2), with 23 female and 22 males.  19 of the participants (12 female and 7 male) were in the dry preference group (mean age 42.9 years), and 26 of the participants (11 female and 15 male) were in the sweet preference group (mean age 42.6 years).

The wine used in the study was a Gran Tesoro Viura, 2007 vintage, which is a Spanish varietal wine with a fruity character profile.  The Gran Tesoro Viura, 2007 was a dry variety, and was used as is for the “dry” treatment sample.  For the “sweet” treatment sample, the same wine with 20g/L of added fructose was used.  After undergoing two different personality tests (the Adult Impulsiveness, Venturesomeness and Empathy Scale test, and the Big Five test), participates were asked to taste and record their preference of two wine samples of varying sweetness.

Results

Some interesting results were found in this study, and include the following:

·         There is a significant difference in personality traits measured in the dry versus sweet preference groups.

·         The only personality traits that significantly differed between the dry and sweet preference groups were implusiveness and openness.

o   Those with a sweet preference were more impulsive than those with a dry preference.

o   Those with a sweet preference were less open than those with a dry preference.

What do these results mean?

A possible explanation behind the result that sweet taste preference was linked to a higher level of impulsiveness is that sweet preference develops early in life, thus could drive the development of the impulsiveness trait.  Past research has shown that the flavors from the diet of the gestating mother are transmitted into the amniotic fluid which is ingested by the fetus.  The flavors exposed to the fetus in this manner may dictate its dietary preferences later in life.  So, if the pregnant woman consumes foods that are sweeter, the resulting child would show a preference for sweets later in life.

Some believe that a preference for sweet is innate, with sweet foods indicating a food source high in energy, and conversely bitter or sour foods indicating danger or poison.  However, it has been shown that sweet preferences fluctuate throughout the life of a human (higher in children, and lower during late adolescence and beyond), which negates the theory of innate attraction to sweet. 

The results of this study showed that those with a sweet white wine taste preference were significantly lower in the trait for openness than those with a preference for dry white wine.

The authors attribute this result to a very early life experience in humans.  Babies with a dry preference (likely as a result of what they were consuming in utero) do not get the stimulation necessary in their diet, and thereby develop a need or openness to trying many different things throughout the remainder of their lives.  This is merely speculative, and would need further research to support (or refute) the idea, but I think it’s plausible and should be considered.

Potential bias/problems with the study as it is currently

There is always potential for bias or problems with study methods when dealing with human behavior and personality tests.  According to the authors of this study, the following issue may have been partially responsible for not showing significant difference between many of the personality traits of study.

Choosing wine:  This may have presented a sampling bias, in that non-drinkers may have avoided participating.  As I’ve said many times while working in the tasting room, and what the authors have agreed with me on, is that it is likely that non-wine drinkers would be more attracted to sweeter wines in order to balance out the acid and alcohol they are experiencing for the first time, whereas those that are familiar and comfortable with wine wouldn’t have this reaction.

To sum up the final results of this study in one sentence:

Participants with a sweet white wine taste preference reported significantly higher levels of impulsiveness, and significantly lower levels of openness.

My final thoughts

I found this study very interesting, though I think the wine experience level of the individual participant would need to be teased out as a variable in order to get a more accurate result, and to thereby possibly find significant difference with other personality traits as well.

Basically, if you prefer sweet (white) wine, you are more impulsive, yet less open to new experiences.  This seems a little counterintuitive to me, and therefore would like to see more research done to tease apart the differences even more.

What do you all think?  Which preference category do you fit into?  Do the results seem to jive with your own personality traits and white wine preferences?  For me, I like both sweet and dry white wines, depending upon what I’m eating or doing.  What does that say about me?  I suppose being a Gemini; I have multiple personalities, so my ambiguousness toward white wine choice may make sense after all!

Full citation:

Saliba, A.J., Wragg, K., and Richardson, P. 2009. Sweet taste preference and personality traits using a white wine. Food Quality and Preference 20: 572-575.


I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!

2 comments for “Sweet Wine Preference: The New Personality Test?

  1. June 20, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I definitely prefer dry whites. Very interesting study.

  2. June 21, 2011 at 3:02 am

    Thanks for reading, Eric! I'd like to see a follow-up study on this including all different types of wines! It has me intrigued!

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