Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Bon Appetit

That human beings have an innate need to observe rituals is well-established. Be it religion, business, Govt, military, judiciary or sports, a certain degree of ritualising takes place.

So many rituals have been associated with food. Saying grace before a meal or uttering some mantra or raising a toast or even wishing each other “Bon app├ętit” are all rituals designed to lend some solemnity or joy to the mundane process of eating. .

Is it possible that rituals can make food taste better? That’s what some researchers at the University of Minnesota tried to find out. (source)

In a series of experiments conducted along with University of Minnesota marketing professor Kathleen D. Vohs and doctoral candidate Yajin Wang, Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino found that rituals indeed have the power to make food seem tastier and more valuable. Their research findings are presented in the paper "Rituals Enhance Consumption," forthcoming in Psychological Science.

"We made the rituals deliberately silly," Norton says. "With rituals like wine-tasting and tasting menus, some of the enjoyment is about pageantry and great service. We wanted to strip those factors away and focus on the rituals themselves."

In one experiment, participants were asked to eat a chocolate bar. Half performed an assigned ritual, breaking and unwrapping the bar in a particular way before eating it. The other half just ate the bar unceremoniously. On average, those in the ritual group reported the candy more enjoyable and more flavorful than the non-ritual group.

A follow-up experiment showed that participants in the ritual experience actually thought the chocolate bar was worth more money than those in the non-ritual group-thus showing the retail marketing potential for food-related rituals

To see whether they could achieve the same effect with something less exciting but more nutritious than a chocolate bar, the researchers repeated the experiment with the least thrilling food they could imagine: carrots.

Sure enough, participants who performed a series of gestures before consuming the carrots reported more enjoyment than those who just ate them. (Norton notes that parents have been employing this technique for time immemorial—ritualistically pretending that a spoonful of pureed peas is, say, "a plane coming in for a landing" in order to make it more appealing to babies.)

Either our forefathers knew the real power of rituals or, despite the meaninglessness, through persistent practice they hardwired it into our brains and ensured that rituals are an integral part of our lives even today

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