How Sweet it Is
Deciding where to go on a first date can be a time consuming, complicated endeavor. There are so many great options available. You could choose dinner, lunch, or brunch, or opt for a cultural or sporting event. Yet whether you suggest running a marathon or renting a movie, research indicates there might be one common denominator that can enhance romance: include something sweet.
This will come as good news to those of you who like dessert. Research demonstrates that experiencing sweet taste can enhance romantic feelings for others—even before a relationship has been formed.
Have a Sweetheart of a First Date
Wang and Chen (2018) studied the impact of sweet taste on romantic semantic processing.[i]They began by acknowledging prior research demonstrating that sweet taste can promote the evaluation of intimate relationships. They sought to determine exactly how sweetness impacts romantic semantic processing. Investigating the correlation with respect to words, they found that participants experiencing sweet taste processed romantic words faster than non-romantic words.
They cite previous research finding that participants experiencing a sweet (versus bitter) drink made more positive and secure evaluations when shown the faces of strangers, and research linking sweet taste to agreeableness, prosocial behavior, and helpfulness.
The participants in their study were given either water with sugar mixed in, or plain water, to drink slowly as they performed a lexical decision task. Results showed that those in the sweet condition had an advantage processing romantic words, which they note is consistent with prior research linking sweet taste to the positive evaluation of potential romantic partners. They suggest that sweet taste can enhance the perception of romance.
Incorporating the concept of embodied cognition, which recognizes a strong connection between physical and mental state, they propose that experiencing sweet taste stimulated the processing of romantic words. Interestingly, although no gender difference emerged in the sweet taste condition, women were more sensitive to romantic words even in the tasteless condition.
Is this phenomenon bidirectional? Sure enough, Wang and Chen noted that studies have demonstrated that romantic emotions make sweetness taste even sweeter.
Dessert Promotes Desire—For New Relationships
Prior research specifically examined the impact of sweet taste on romantic perception.[ii] In “Sweet love,” Ren et al. (2014) in two studies found that participants evaluated a hypothetical relationship, as opposed to an existing one, more favorably when experiencing sweet taste. In a third study, they found that sweet taste also promoted a greater level of interest in initiating a relationship with a potential partner.
In interpreting the results, the researchers suggest that our sense of taste may impact romantic evaluations and interest through a biological process. They cite previous research showing that tasting sweet food increases dopamine levels, identified by previous research as “a key biological substrate of passionate love.”
Sweet Nothings Might Cost Next to Nothing
Before you plan a next dessert date with a potential romantic interest, consider what types of sweet treats Ren et al. used in their study. If you were planning to spend a fortune on elaborate truffles and crème brulee, there is no need.
Study 1 compared the effect of having four Oreo mini cookies (sweet condition) to six Lays salt–vinegar chips (control condition), Study 2 compared the impact of 5 oz. of Fanta drink (sweet condition) to distilled water (control condition). Participants were instructed to consume the provided snack/drink slowly over the entire course of the session to ensure an accurate evaluation of the taste, as they completed the survey. Study 3 used a Sprite-7:Up combination compared to distilled water.
Even the researchers noted that their results could not be explained by the brand names involved, which were not disclosed to participants until after the study. They also recognized that Oreos, Fanta, 7-Up, and Sprite are not products stereotypically linked to romance.
Bittersweet Results for Committed Couples?
If you are now worried about your significant other going out for ice cream with colleagues, take these research findings about the seduction of sweetness with a grain of salt. At least in the first two studies, Ren et al. had participants evaluate hypothetical relationships only when they were not already romantically involved, creating the ability to compare the impact of sweet taste on non-existent relationships versus existing ones.
And of course, there is much more to romantic attraction than meets the palate. Chemistry, compatibility, honesty, and other ingredients combine to create healthy relationships that will no doubt survive the most tantalizing make-your-own-sundae bar.
The sweet-attraction link is an interesting piece of research that may stimulate date ideas among people who are single, but looking for a partner with whom to share a banana split.
[i]Liusheng Wang and Qian Chen, ”Experiencing Sweet Taste Affects Romantic Semantc Processing,” Current Psychology, 2018, https:/doi.org/10.1007/s12144-018-9877-8.
[ii]Dongning Ren, Kenneth Tan, Ximena B. Arriaga, and Kai Qin Chan
“Sweet love: The effects of sweet taste experience on romantic perceptions, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32, Issue 7, 2014, 905 – 921.