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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Unconscious eating? CFAES scientist explores mysteries of appetite

What we eat is determined by more than just hunger pangs.

It's often an unconscious response to what's around us, according to a sensory researcher with CFAES.

"Our environment can affect how much we eat, and even how much we like a food," said Chris Simons, who joined the Department of Food Science and Technology earlier this year. "Environmental cues -- visual, auditory, aroma -- can generate cravings that influence food intake."

Simons, whose background is in both sensory science and neuroscience, is now putting the finishing touches on new labs in the Parker Food Science and Technology Building that will help him study human response to such cues, and will hire his first graduate student as a research assistant in August.



"With better ways to measure consumer responses to new products, we can help companies improve their success rate."—Chris Simons

Simons also has an appointment with the college's research arm, OARDC.

One of Simons' new testing grounds is an immersive technologies laboratory.

The first thing a visitor notices is an entire wall covered with high-definition video screens that can set a visual scene for sensory testing -- the interior of a five-star restaurant, for example, or a fast-food burger joint, a home kitchen, or an outdoor setting for a picnic.

Less obvious components are surround-sound speakers and a stainless-steel spout jutting from the wall that can pump aromas into the room.

How we respond to where and what we eat

"We could set up tables and chairs in the room that are consistent with, say, a Wendy's restaurant, and re-create the environment that a customer would experience," Simons said. "Then we can alter some things, perhaps pumping in some strong flavor aromas, to see how consumers react to different stimuli."

The back of the room has a one-way mirror that allows researchers to make observations of study participants.

Another lab will allow researchers to gather physiological data, including heart rate, respiration, and skin perspiration, to help measure unconscious reactions to various food-related stimuli including flavors, packaging, or visual images of company logos.

"It will allow us to gather data measuring responses to different stimuli using methodology that's more objective," Simons said.

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-- Martha Filipic, Communications and Technology