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The Crunch Effect: Food Sounds and Appetite

We’ve all heard that we eat first with our eyes. Our senses of smell, taste and touch are also significant players in our eating experience. But what about hearing? The least noted of our senses in culinary science is now being scrutinized as scientists explore the “crunch effect,” or how the sounds of eating impact the amount of food we consume. It turns out that the more aware we are of our food mastication sounds—the crunching, the chomping, the slurping—the less we are apt to eat.

Researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, carried out three experiments on the effect of “food sound salience” and found that even suggesting (via an advertisement) that people think of eating-related sounds can cut consumption. The findings were published in Food Quality and Preference (2016; 51, 39–46).

Of note among the experiments was the one that showed subjects ate less when the sound of the food was more intense. In that study, participants snacked while wearing headphones that played either loud or quiet noise. Researchers found that the louder headphone noise masked the sound of chewing, and subjects in that group ate more—4 pretzels compared with 2.75 pretzels for the “quiet” group.

The main takeaway, say the researchers, is for eaters to embrace mindfulness as part of the experience—being more mindful not just of the taste and physical appearance of food but also of the sound it makes, which can nudge them toward eating less.

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