You watch a romance movie with a friend, and share a bowl of popcorn.
You have a romantic meal with a lover, and end with a melt-in-the-middle chocolate pudding.
You unwrap your partner’s gifts from under the tree, and find sweet nothings on a gift tagand beneath the wrappings sweet somethings.
Much has been written on the feel-good factor of chocolate: the chemistry behind our love for it, and the reasons why women, in particular, often love it (hormones!). But a recent academic study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships has found that eating anything sweet can heighten feelings of romance.
The paper, entitled ‘Sweet Love: The Effects of Sweet Taste Experience on Romantic Perceptions’, explains how ‘a relatively subtlemanipulation, namely taste sensations, might influence romantic perceptions’.
The researchers tested participants’ responses in various ways. They gave some participants Oreo cookies, and others (the control group), salt and vinegar. Then the participants answered survey questions, based on the Perceived Relationship Quality Components (PRQC), about their existing relationship or, if single, a hypothetical one. The process was then repeated, using a fizzy orange drink and water, and the respondents had to indicate romantic interest based on dating profiles.
The researchers found that participants in the study evaluated a hypothetical relationshipmore favourably and were more interested in initiating a relationship with a potential partner when exposed to a sweet taste. But for those already in a relationship, there was no discernible effect. So by that logic, if you want to ‘woo’ a partner, feed him or her something sweet. And if you’re already in a relationship – well, the study did not suggest a box of chocolates would hurt in any way!
What I find most fascinating about this study is its exploration of metaphors. From the paper:
Terms of endearment such as ‘sweetie,’ ‘honey,’ and ‘sugar’ are commonly used in the context of describing romantic partners […] It has been suggested that metaphorical thinking is one fundamental way of perceiving the world; metaphors facilitate social cognition by applying concrete concepts (e.g., sweet taste) to understand abstract concepts (e.g., love; Landau et al., 2010). The current findings support this notion by demonstrating that changes in bodily experiences result in relationship perceptions that are congruent with the love as sweet metaphor.
The many ways we assign ‘sweet’ language to love actually have a logical foundation.
So a sweet taste can heighten romance. Does it work the other way as well? Can romance make a taste sweeter? According to the2013 study‘What do love and jealousy taste like?’, the answer is yes. From the paper’s abstract:
Metaphorical expressions linking love and jealousy to sweet, sour, and bitter tastes are common in normal language use and suggest that these emotions may influence perceptual taste judgments. Hence, we investigated whether the phenomenological experiences of love and jealousy are embodied in the taste sensations of sweetness, sourness, and bitterness. Studies 1A and 1B validated that these metaphors are widely endorsed.
The researchers found that participants‘induced to feel’ love rated sweets, chocolates and distilled water as tasting sweeter than those who were ‘induced to feel’ jealous, neutral or happy.
So eating something sweet can make you feel more romantic, and feeling more romantic can make the something sweet taste sweeter. Now there’s a pleasurable cycle!