It's in the eye of the beholder: selective attention to drink properties during tasting influences brain activation in gustatory and reward regions

van Rijn, Inge, de Graaf, Cees, Smeets, Paul A M


Brain Imaging and Behavior 12 (2), p. 425-436


Statements regarding pleasantness, taste intensity or caloric content on a food label may influence the attention consumers pay to such characteristics during consumption. There is little research on the effects of selective attention on taste perception and associated brain activation in regular drinks. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of selective attention on hedonics, intensity and caloric content on brain responses during tasting drinks. Using functional MRI brain responses of 27 women were measured while they paid attention to the intensity, pleasantness or caloric content of fruit juice, tomato juice and water. Brain activation during tasting largely overlapped between the three selective attention conditions and was found in the rolandic operculum, insula and overlying frontal operculum, striatum, amygdala, thalamus, anterior cingulate cortex and middle orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Brain activation was higher during selective attention to taste intensity compared to calories in the right middle OFC and during selective attention to pleasantness compared to intensity in the right putamen, right ACC and bilateral middle insula. Intensity ratings correlated with brain activation during selective attention to taste intensity in the anterior insula and lateral OFC. Our data suggest that not only the anterior insula but also the middle and lateral OFC are involved in evaluating taste intensity. Furthermore, selective attention to pleasantness engaged regions associated with food reward. Overall, our results indicate that selective attention to food properties can alter the activation of gustatory and reward regions. This may underlie effects of food labels on the consumption experience of consumers.