• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/Taste Test

Air Date: Week of March 3, 2006

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have tested the brain's ability to lessen the experience of a foul taste by anticipating one that is good. Emily Taylor reports.

Transcript

TAYLOR: Remember your first curse word? You thought your mom was gonna wash out your mouth with soap, didn’t you? So you closed your eyes and prepared for the worst. Well, maybe you didn’t.

A recent study from scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that the human brain can have a response that is based on the perception of taste, regardless of whether the taste buds actually experience the sensation.

After enlisting 43 students to undergo MRI brain imaging, assistant professor Jack B. Nitschke tested the ability of their brains to reduce the experience of a foul taste by tricking itself through the anticipation of a less foul taste. He conditioned the students before they entered the MRI session to associate a specific cue with a taste, and monitored their brain activity as cues flashed and liquid was dropped into their mouths.

But Nitschke didn’t always match the cues with the tastes the subjects were anticipating. So, when some students saw a cue for a less bitter taste, less bitter is what they perceived even if the actual taste was bitter.

Nitschke was able to ultimately conclude that the brain acts differently when it anticipates a sensation as compared to when it experiences a sensation unexpectedly. Sensory input could be largely based on perceptions of, say, fear or joy, rather than on reality. Nitschke hopes to use these anticipatory processes in the brain to help people dealing with anxiety and depression. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Emily Taylor.

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.