“O Fortuna, this wine is powerful!”: The Influence of Music on the Perception of Taste

A side note before we launch into today’s review: Today’s post marks the 50th review of current scientific research related to wine on The Academic Wino! It’s the 71st post overall, but 50th major study review!  Seems hard to believe I’ve cranked through 50 papers already!

There have been countless studies investigating the effect of music on the psychology and behavior of people.  Speaking from personal experience, when I’m listening to loud, fast rock music, I tend to drive faster than if I were listening to classical, jazz, or talk radio.  Personal behavior can also be altered from other stimuli as well, such as visual or tactile cues.  For example, studies have found that the color, temperature, texture, and viscosity of foods affect the way they taste to the person consuming them.  Specifically, one study found that potato chips were rated as tasting significantly fresher when the sound made from biting into them was louder.

More recently, one study proposed that auditory stimuli occurring simultaneously with gestation may influence the quality or taste of that food item.  In one of their experiments, participants were asked to consume bacon and egg flavored ice cream while listening to sounds of either bacon sizzling or barnyard chickens milling about.  Their results showed that the bacon and egg ice cream tasted significantly better when listening to sounds of bacon sizzling than listening to sounds of chickens in the barnyard.  Other studies have found similar results, with loud background noise increasing the perceived crunchiness of food.

http://nowandzin.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/wine-and-music.jpg

More specific to wine, many studies have examined the effect of background music on wine purchases.  For example, one study found that background music of the classical genre played in a wine cellar resulted in more expensive purchases than background music of the pop genre.  Another study found that playing French music resulted in more French wines being purchased, and also that playing German music resulted in more German wines being purchased.  Many studies have found that classical music in the background is correlated with more expensive wine purchases than other types of music.

Today’s study, recently published in the British Journal of Psychology, took the results and theories of all these previous studies and examined the idea that emotional connotations of the background music may influence the perception of the taste of wine.

Methods

Music for this study was chosen based on a short pilot study.  5 students under the age of 25 were selected to listen to four different pieces of music, and to identify which were “powerful and heavy”, “subtle and refined”, “zingy and refreshing”, and “mellow and soft”.  The responses from all 5 participants were identical, and corresponded to what was expected.  The pieces chosen for the study were Carmina Burana by Orff (“powerful and heavy”), Waltz of the Flowers by Tchaikovsky (“subtle and refined”), Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague (“zingy and refreshing”), and Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook (“mellow and soft”).

The participants in this study were all under the age of 25 (mean=21.66, standard deviation=2.49).  There were a total of 250 participates, 125 of which were male, and 125 of which were female.  Participants were recruited on a busy university campus between noon and 3pm over 15 consecutive work days, and were offered a free glass of wine in return for answering the study questions about its taste.  Potential participants were randomly recruited using a random numbered list.  Participants were asked not to drive within 3 hours of finishing the study.

The design of the experiment was an independent subjects design.  Twenty five participants (12 males and 13 females, or 12 females and 13 males) tasted each type of wine while simultaneously listening to each type of music (or a no music control).  After finishing the wine, participants were asked to rate its taste on a scale of 0-10 for each of the four rating scales (“powerful and heavy”, “subtle and refined”, “zingy and refreshing”, and “mellow and soft”), with 0 meaning the wine did not have this characteristic at all, and 10 meaning the wine very much did have the characteristic.  Participants were also asked to rate from 0-10 how much they liked the wine, and from 0-10 how much they liked the music.  Participants were also asked to identify which characteristic matched each source of music.  Those participants that did not answer the final question correctly were excluded from the data set and new participants recruited to replace them (only 4 participants fell into this category).

During the study, participants were asked to gargle twice for 10 seconds with tap water to cleanse their palates.  Then, they were given a 125mL glass of either Montes Alpha 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.  After receiving the wine, participants were taken to one of five rooms where music was playing at 70dB and were asked to sit and drink it.  Music was played (or not played in the case of the control) on a continuous loop, with the type of music in each room changing every three days.  Participants were instructed to pace their drinking in order to finish the wine in 5 minutes, and to not talk with anyone else in the room.  After finishing the wine, participants were asked to fill out the questionnaire described above.

Results

  •       There was no significant effect of type of wine on the outcome of the experiment (i.e. participants did not seem to prefer one over the other0.
  •       There was a significant effect of the audio condition.

o   The highest scores on each rating scales were given when the corresponding music was playing.

§  What this means is that the wine was perceived as more “powerful and heavy” when the “powerful and heavy” music was playing, etc.

§  Participants appeared to perceive the taste of the wine in a manner that was consistent with the type of music that was playing.

§  These results are consistent with the results of other studies that show music having an influence on commercial behaviors.

Conclusions

While this study was short and sweet, it was also very fascinating.  The results clearly show that participants’ perception of taste changed with different types of background music.  These results add to the already large set of data regarding the influence of music on consumer behavior. 

Of course, this study is not without its’ faults.  The study only examined participates of a very specific age, nor does it make any attempt to determine prior wine knowledge of each participant, and whether they are aware of these types of experiments prior to participating, all of which could potentially influence the outcome.  By including a wide range of ages, while also including participants with varying levels of wine knowledge, perhaps a greater understanding of the mechanisms involved could be achieved.

Another factor that may be limiting in this experiment is the type of music studied.  Perhaps by including several genres for each characteristic (i.e. more than just one genre for the “powerful and heavy”, ““subtle and refined”, “zingy and refreshing”, and “mellow and soft” characteristics), a greater understanding of the mechanisms may be understood.

Overall, this short and sweet study provided a small, yet important, addition to the existing evidence regarding the psychological effect of music on perception of taste.  From this research, there are many potential future studies, of which I will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide what might be an appropriate next step. 

What do you think is the next step in this line of research?  Any general/specific thoughts?  Please feel free to comment below!

Source:  North, A.C. 2011. The effect of background music on the taste of wine. British Journal of Psychology (print version of this issue not yet available; online only).

DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02072.x
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!

6 comments for ““O Fortuna, this wine is powerful!”: The Influence of Music on the Perception of Taste

  1. SUAMW
    December 16, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    This is interesting. However, I wonder how it would play out with professional tasters who were following a predetermined set of criteria for evaluating wines? Furaneol is furaneol. Methoxypyrazine does not change with the music being played. Furthermore, past studies have shown that external cues do not affect the functioning of the cranial nerve nuclei where the raw data from sensory nerves makes its first stop. Neither do they modulate the activity in thalamic nuclei where these data are further processed. So maybe this study says what I already knew: noise and music are a distraction in a tasting environment.
    Next.

  2. December 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    I wouldn't be surprised if the results were different with professional tasters. The demographic of this study was basically a gaggle of undergrads, which in my experience, are easily distracted. Though, I won't totally rule out the same result occurring with professionals until I see the data 🙂 I think if they are serious about this question, they need to address this issue next.

    If you had a choice, would you prefer a tasting room with no musical distractions? Or a silent room? Or maybe some death metal? 😉

  3. SUAMW
    December 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    One of the things I hate about going tasting is the music, the woo-hoo limmo chicks (noise, and obnoxious perfume – a double whammy). So I would prefer to skip all the fluff of decor, ambiance lighting and sound (and being told how many points some lawyer with not sensory or wine training gave the wine before its even poured) etc
    When I taste for reviews, I watch the ambient temperature, humidity and eliminate ambient aromas and noise

  4. December 16, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Actually, there is plenty of work to indicate that music alters processing in the midbrain. Perhaps the earliest well-known study was the 2001 work of Zatorre and Blood at U Montreal, who did PET scans of subjects listening to a dissonant sound (C/C# on a piano) which caused the signal to be routed to the right parahypocampal gyrus in the limbic system (fight or flight), while a C/G perfect fifth caused the signal to arrive in the orbitofrontal area (part of Reward System) and an area below corpus callosum (sympathetic nervous system, causing lowering of heart rate, BP, etc.). Many subsequent studies exist in the growing area of cognitive musicology and its allied medical field of music therapy.

    While these effects apeear to synergize with taste stimuli as the above study indicates, none of these disciplines is claiming the music changes the actual composition of the beverage. There are proponents of this view, Masura Emoto (The Secret Life of Water) chief among them, but this is, to me, a completely separate inquiry, and to insist that a pyrazine is still a pyrazine is not evidence that these strongly shared cognitive effects do not exist.

    For more on wine and music research and some fun experiments you can run at home, see http://postmodernwinemaking.com/pmwine/wine_n_mus…. Music well selected is no distraction. Rather it can greatly enhance the pleasure a wine gives, even a cheap one, and done wrong, can ruin the best. You can save big bucks by getting good at this.

  5. December 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    I hear you regarding the obnoxious limo patrons!

    I suppose I never taste for reviews, and simply for a pleasurable afternoon out, so for me, I enjoy having some music in the background (though I prefer for it to not be something modern or pop-like).

  6. December 16, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for commenting, Clark! That's some very fascinating information regarding how music alters the brain. It'd be interesting to have someone do a wine tasting study like this, while hooked up to brain wave monitors or other fancy neurological equipment to see what is going on while tasting with different types of music in the background.

    Speaking of claiming music can alter the composition of the beverage, I tweeted and shared on Facebook a link to this website claiming that 5 winemakers in Austria have come up with a way to create a better tasting wine by playing music to it while it's fermenting in the barrel. Here's the site (it'll need to be translated): http://www.sonorwines.com/de/home.html Click on the "process" link to read about how they claim this works. I'm dying for someone to do the study to either confirm or refute this! I'd be curious to see what you think of it. Crazy? Or possible?

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