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Red Hot: The Crossmodal Effect of Color Intensity on Perceived Piquancy

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Color cues can influence the experience of flavor, both by influencing identification and perceived intensity of foods. Previous research has largely focused on the crossmodal influence of vision upon taste or olfactory cues. It is plausible that color cues could also affect perceived trigeminal sensation; these studies demonstrate a crossmodal influence of color on piquancy. In our first two experiments, participants rated the spiciness of images of salsas that were adjusted to vary in color and intensity. We found that red was associated with significantly higher ratings of expected spice than blue, and that darker reds were expected to be spicier than lighter reds. In our third experiment, participants tasted and then rated the spiciness of each of four salsas (with two levels of color and of piquancy) when sighted and when blindfolded. Spiciness ratings were unaffected by differing colors when the salsa was mild, but when the piquancy was increased, a lack of increase in color corresponded to a depressed spiciness. These results can be explained using a model of assimilation and contrast. Taken together, our findings show that in our US sample, there is a crossmodal correspondence between visual and trigeminal senses that can influence perception of spiciness.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Cognitive Science, Occidental College, 1600 Campus Road, Los Angeles, CA 90041, USA


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