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Does music have a taste? A look into the synesthesia

What does music taste like? Most wouldn’t think it has a flavor, but researchers recently concluded that certain types of music actually affect how food tastes in the mouth.
Experimental psychologists and researchers from the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford studied how the five senses in the human body link with each other, including how auditory stimuli and taste affect each other. They suggest that a music’s pitch may alter the way we taste food, making it either more bitter or sweet.
Interestingly enough, most would only think that this sensation would affect those with synesthesia, a condition where a person’s senses are linked together. A person with synesthesia has the ability to taste music, hear colors, etc. Only about 4 percent of the world’s population have this ability, and those with it say that it’s very real, rather than an illusion happening inside their mind. Many famous musicians, such as Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel have been thought to have synesthesia.
However, the rest of the world may have their own form of synesthesia, at least when it comes to listening to music while eating. Researchers gave volunteers toffee and had them listen to two specific pieces of music: one with high pitches and another with low pitches. The participants rated the taste of the toffee from bitter to sweet. Although each volunteer ate the same kind of toffee, those listening to higher pitches reported the candy tasting sweeter than those listening to lower pitches.
Another experiment involved cake pops sold in an experimental restaurant in London. Each pop was given out with an accompanying phone number. Calling the number resulted in a prompt of choosing a sweeter or bitter taste experience. The appropriate music played based on their choice.
In the real world, British Airways is experimenting with pairing specific music with specific foods, specifically with ethnic dishes.
“If you have some sort of ethnic cuisine, be it Indian, Scottish, French, Italian, then if you put people in an environment with a matching atmosphere— with French accordion music for French wine, Indian sitar music while eating Indian food— if you get the right sort of music, that will increase the perceived authenticity of the sort of food that you’re eating,” says Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford.
Of course, this research is preliminary. However, it could lead to a better understanding of the unique abilities possessed by those with synesthesia, which could be genetic as it seems to run in families. This study suggests, though that we may all have our own form of synesthesia.

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Article written by Robyn Burst, December 10