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Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 11, No. 6, November 2016, pp. 547–553 The potential relationship between spicy taste and risk seek ing Xue Wang Liuna Geng † Jiawen Qin Sixie Yao Abstract We conducted three studies to examine the relationship between spicy tastes a nd risk seeking. In Study 1, results from a personality judgment task indicated that people were more inclined to attribute a higher level of risk seeking to individuals who enjoy spicy foods. The second study examined whether people who like s picy foods are actually more risk seeking. In fact, people who reported a preference for spicy tastes scored higher on r isk taking, as assessed via the Domain-Speci c Risk-Taking Scale (Chinese version). Finally, Study 3 employed an experimental de sign to manipulate risk-seeking tendencies by having participants experience spicy food tastes in the lab. Momentarily savoring spicy foods increased participants’ risk taking in the Iowa Gambling Task. The present ndings suggest that preferen ces for spicy tastes could relate to risk-seeking tendencies and subsequent risk-seeking behaviors.
Keywords: spicy taste, risk seeking, personality.
1 Introduction In the past decade, psychologists and nutritionists have ex – amined the relationship between personality traits and foo d choices. Several studies suggest that personality traits i n u- ence consumption of speci c foods or substances. For exam- ple, among the Big 5 personality factors, conscientiousnes s and openness to experience are positively associated with vegetable and fruit consumption (Raynor & Levine, 2009) and negatively associated with eating meat products (Mõttu s et al., 2012). Research has also shown that an increased pref – erence for ca eine is associated with higher levels of sensa – tion seeking (Mattes, 1994). More abstractly, scholars hav e addressed factors underlying taste preferences, particul arly the relationship between taste preferences and personalit y.
For instance, individuals with a preference for sweet foods score higher on measures of agreeableness (Meier, Moeller, Riemer-Peltz & Robinson, 2012) and neuroticism (Keller, Steinmann, Nurse & Tepper, 2014; Kikuchi & Watanabe, 2000). As for spicy tastes (i.e., tastes elicited from spice s that produce oral irritation), preferences have been obser ved around the world (especially Africa, India, China, and Mex- ico; Ji, Ding, Deng, Ma & Jiang, 2013), in spite of these foods (at least initially) being seemingly unpalatable. In contrast, several people are averse to spicy foods due to re- sultant painful sensations. While physiological reactions Funding: The study described in this report was supported by the Jiangsu university philosophy social science fund project “the ment ality in the period of social transformation” (No. 2015JDXM003). The funders ha d no role in study design, data collection and analysis, Copyright: © 2016. The authors license this article under th e terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Department of Psychology, Nanjing University, Nanjing, Chi na.
† Corresponding author. Department of Psychology, Nanjing Un iversity, Nanjing, China. Email: email@example.com. a ect preferences for spicy tastes, additional evidence su g- gests that these taste preferences could be in uenced by per – sonality factors (Bartoshuk, 1993; Du y, 2007; Du y & Bartoshuk, 2000; Miller & Reedy, 1990), social and cul- tural contexts (Rozin & Schiller, 1980; Stevens, 1990), and repeated exposure to spicy cuisine (Logue & Smith, 1986).
Thus, there is merit in exploring the relationship between spicy tastes and personality traits. The most common personality construct associated with spicy taste is sensation seeking, which has been associated with a preference for, and consumption of, spicy foods.
For instance, several studies have reported a positive rela – tionship between sensation-seeking behaviors and enjoyin g chili-containing foods (Byrnes & Hayes, 2013, 2015). Spicy tastes create strong sensations (Ludy & Mattes, 2012), and sensation seeking is an important predictor of risky behav- iors, including aspects of criminality and social violatio ns (Horvath & Zuckerman, 1993). More direct evidence is in- dicated by a positive relationship observed between eating spicy foods and risk-taking subscale scores from the DSM5 Personality Inventory (PID–5) (Byrnes & Hayes, 2016). Additionally, the theory of benign masochism provides a possible explanation for why spicy consumption is related t o risk-seeking tendencies. Benign masochism refers to the en – joyment derived from negative experiences that we initiall y perceive as threatening (e.g., eating peppers, riding roll er coasters, etc.; Rozin & Schiller, 1980; Schweid, 1980). Al- though eating spicy foods is typically accompanied by de- fensive responses within the body (e.g., teary eyes and a runny nose), certain individuals’ preferred level of piqua ncy is below any tolerance level. Thus, while our body interpret s eating spicy food as risky, our mind seems to regard this behavior as safe or at least a “constrained risk”. Further- more, Rozin and colleagues provided systematic evidence 547 Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 11, No. 6, November 2016 Spicy taste and risk seeking548 for benign masochism across a range of activities, includin g spicy taste consumption, and observed a positive correlati on between benign masochism and sensation seeking (Rozin, Guillot, Fincher, Rozin & Tsukayama, 2013).
Based on the aforementioned literature, we explored the relationship between spicy taste and risk-seeking traits a nd behaviors. Study 1 implemented a personality judgment task to examine beliefs that pertain to preferences for spicy foo ds and risk seeking. We hypothesized that participants would ascribe a higher level of risk seeking to individuals who enj oy spicy tastes. Study 2 was an extension of Study 1 and exam- ined whether people who like spicy foods actually engage in more risky behaviors. More speci cally, do people’s taste preferences vary according to personality? We sought to an- swer this question, particularly as it pertains to preferen ces for spicy tastes coinciding with risk-seeking tendencies. We hypothesized that individuals who enjoy spicy foods would be more likely to take risks. Similar to Study 1, Study 2 re- lied on self-report assessments of these constructs. Final ly, Study 3 investigated actual behavioral links to spicy taste preferences and risk seeking. Thus, we examined whether momentarily savoring a spicy food would in uence risky decisions. In line with predictions from Studies 1 and 2, we expected that momentarily savoring spicy tastes would increase individuals’ risk-seeking behaviors.
2 Study 1 2.1 Methods 2.1.1 Participants Forty-nine Chinese students (28 females) from Nanjing Uni- versity voluntarily participated in this study. The mean ag e of the sample was 21.36 years ( SD= 2.14), ranging from 18 to 27 years.
2.1.2 Materials The Chinese Facial A ective Picture System. Previous research has demonstrated the existence of facial stereoty pes whereby people tend to associate attractiveness with posit ive personality traits. Thus, we utilized a personality judgme nt task aimed at preventing participants from determining at- tractiveness based on these personality judgments (Ji et al ., 2013; Meier et al., 2012; Meier, Robinson, Carter & Hinsz, 2010). We selected 20 facial images displaying a neutral expression from the Chinese Facial A ective Picture System (Gong, Huang, Wang & Luo, 2011). We sampled an equal number of male and female faces (10 each). Photographs were taken from the neck to the top of the head and are in black and white. Each photograph was paired with a statement indicating that individual’s taste preferences . In previous work, food items, such as lemons, have been used without indicating a particular type of taste (Ji et al., 201 3; Meier, Moeller et al., 2012). However, we believed that en- joyment of a speci c food item would not necessarily be the same as a preference for a certain taste type. For instance, i t is possible that participants would infer someone else’s pe r- sonality based other food characteristics beyond taste. Th us, we used direct statements, such as “I have a preference for spicy tastes”, in the task. To preclude any facial expressio n e ects, each facial expression was judged according to four tastes (including sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy). Partici pants were required to make a total of 80 judgments. The taste- face pairings were the same for each participant. Finally, w e calculated average scores among the 20 taste-face pairings for each taste.
For each judgment, the face image and its correspond- ing statement were presented to participants for 1.5 second s.
Next, information was removed, and participants were re- quired to judge the extent to which the person shown in the picture was likely to be “irritable” and “risk seeking”, usi ng a 7-point Likert scale, where 1 = not at alland 7 =extremely .
The personality trait “irritable” was used based on previou s evidence of a relationship between spicy preferences and irritability (Ji et al., 2013), and the personality trait “r isk seeking” was the target trait in our experiment.
2.1.3 Procedure Participants were informed that they were going to perform a facial recognition task. An initial inquiry revealed that no participant had previously taken part in similar tasks invo lv- ing these black and white facial pictures. After providing written consent, each participant completed the personali ty judgment task according to the experimental instructions.
After completion, the participants were thanked and de- briefed.
2.2 Results All participants performed the tasks as directed. However, the nal inquiry revealed that two male participants had insights into the study’s aims; thus, these participants we re excluded from the analyses. A repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA), based on the means of each condition for each participant, was conducted to examine the e ects of taste type on personality judgments. Results are provided i n Table 1. We observed that taste type signi cantly a ected judgments of irritability and risk seeking (as shown by the F tests in the leftmost column of Table 1). For both irritabili ty and risk-seeking, all three other tastes were rated signi c antly lower than spicy (as shown by the t tests in Table 1). 1 1The analysis in Table 1 was supported by an additional analys is using the lmer() function in the lme4 package for R (Bates et al., 2015 ). This allowed us to examine both subjects and faces as crossed rando m e ects.
All tests were, like those shown in Table 1, highly signi can t. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 11, No. 6, November 2016 Spicy taste and risk seeking549 Table 1: Descriptive statistics and t-values for the person ality judgment task. Taste N M SD t p Irritable (F(3,44)=9.10) spicy 47 4.43 .88 sour 47 3.98 .73 t=3.42 < .01 sweet 47 3.68 .99 t=4.12 < .01 bitter 47 4.00 .73 t=2.97 < .01 Risk seeking (F(3,44)=13.18) spicy 47 4.37 .89 sour 47 3.87 .78 t=5.39 < .01 sweet 47 3.41 .86 t=5.25 < .01 bitter 47 3.96 .82 t=2.56 < .05 t-value indicates the comparison between the spicy taste and one of the other three tastes.
F-value indicates the comparison among the overall four tastes.
3 Study 2 3.1 Methods 3.1.1 Participants One hundred thirteen Chinese students (57 females) from Nanjing University voluntarily completed two question- naires. Participants’ mean age was 20.13 years ( SD= .85), ranging from 18 to 23 years.
3.1.2 Materials Domain-Speci c Risk-Taking Scale (DOSPERT)/Chinese (DOSPERT-C). Weber, Blais and Betz (2002) designed the Domain-Speci c Risk-Taking Scale (DOSPERT) to as- sess the propensity to take risks across six content domains :
investment, gambling, health/safety, recreational, soci al, and ethical decisions. Due to cultural di erences, a Chinese ve r- sion was utilized in our study (Hu & Xie, 2012), where the social and investment domains were combined into one fac- tor. Thus, there were ve speci c domains in the Chinese version: gambling (items 3, 9, 19, 28), health/safety (item s 24, 27, 31, 34, 35), recreational (items 2, 5, 13, 15, 18, 26, 32, 33), ethical (items 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 23,) and social- investment (items 1, 6, 8, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 25, 29, 30). Participants were instructed to rate these 35 items on a 7-point scale that ranged from 1 “strongly disagree” to 7 “strongly agree”. In the present study, the Cronbach’s for the total scale was 0.83. Table 2: Descriptive statistics and results of bivariate co r- relation analyses for relationships between taste prefere nces and DOSPERT-C total scale scores. N M SD r p Liking sour tastes 113 1.79 0.88 .02 >.05 Liking sweet tastes 113 2.22 1.00 –.12 >.05 Liking bitter tastes 113 1.56 0.83 .13 >.05 Liking spicy tastes 113 3.08 1.04 .37 <.01 r-value indicates the correlation between liking a taste and DOSPERT-C total scale score.
3.1.3 Procedure Participants were asked to rate their enjoyment of four tast e types (sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy) on a 7-point scale (1 = strongly dislike , 7 =strongly like ). Subsequently, we in- structed participants to complete the DOSPERT-C scale. Af- ter completion, participants were debriefed and thanked.
3.2 Results All participants’ data were used (Table 2). As predicted, bivariate correlation analyses revealed that liking spicy tastes was positively correlated with a propensity to take risks ( r = 0.37, p< .01). When individual enjoyment for other taste types were controlled with partial corrlation, the correla tion coe cient between liking spicy taste and DOSPERT-C was essentially unchanged ( r bitter = .37, p< .01; r sour = .37, p < .01; r sweet = .38, p< .01). A regression analysis also indicated that liking spicy tastes was the only signi cant predictor of risk-seeking attitudes ( = .37, p< .01, R2 = .18). We further examined the relationship between liking spicy tastes and scores on the DOSPERT-C domain scores.
Signi cant correlations were observed between liking spic y tastes and scores on all ve domains: gambling ( r= .24, p< .05), recreational ( r= .29, p <.01), ethical ( r= .24, p< .05), social-investment ( r= .25, p< .01), and healthy ( r= .17, p< .10).
4 Study 3 4.1 Methods 4.1.1 Participants Fifty-one Chinese students (30 females) from Nanjing Uni- versity voluntarily participated in Study 3. Participants were provided with either course credits or 15 Yuan for their par- ticipation. Participants’ mean age was 19.78 years ( SD= .88) and ranged from 18 to 21 years. They were assigned at random to two conditions: spicy and control. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 11, No. 6, November 2016 Spicy taste and risk seeking550 4.1.2 Materials Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). The Iowa Gambling Task was initially developed to assess and quantify decision- making di culties among patients with neurological de cit s (Bechara, Damasio, Damasio & Anderson, 1994). We used it because it simulates real-world decision-making under u n- certainty. The IGT consists of four card decks: A, B, C, and D. Participants are provided an imaginary loan of $2000 and are required to win as much money as possible during the task. Each card type accompanies an immediate reward:
$100 for decks A or B and $50 for decks C or D. However, a penalty is imposed for every ten cards chosen. The penalty is large among decks A and B and small among decks C and D. Players cannot predict when a penalty will occur. There- fore, decks A and B are “risk-seeking” decks. By contrast, decks C and D are “risk-aversion” decks. A higher percent- age of choosing from decks A and B is assumed to assess risk-seeking behavior. Participants perform 50 trials, wi th 5 penalty trials. We compared the two groups in the percent- age of choosing the risk-seeking decks (deck A or deck B) relative to the risk-aversion decks (decks C or D).
Positive and Negative A ect Schedule (PANAS). The Positive and Negative A ect Schedule was developed by Watson, Clark, and Tellegen (1988) and is comprised of 2, 10-item mood scales. The PANAS is a valid and reliable tool for measuring positive and negative a ect. In our study, we adopted a Chinese version of the PANAS (Huang, Yang & Ji, 2003). The PANAS requires participants to report the extent to which they are currently experiencing 10 positive feelin gs and 10 negative feelings on a 5-point scale (1 = very slightly, 5 = extremely ). The means for positive a ect and negative a ect are calculated by averaging scores for the 10 positive and 10 negative feeling states, separately. The Cronbach’s for the positive a ect scale was .87, and the Cronbach’s for the negative a ect scale was .88.
4.1.3 Procedure Participants were informed that they would be involved in a study on “food tasting”. Assessments at the end of the experiment revealed that participants did not know the ac- tual purpose of our study. Participants were assigned to one of two conditions: a spicy condition (N = 25) or a con- trol condition (N = 26). First, participants completed the DOSPERT-C. Next, those in the spicy condition were in- structed to eat a piece of tasteless bread covered in chili sauce. We used the same chili sauce, which is regarded as very spicy for most Chinese people. Before tasting, we asked participants whether they would be willingly to taste the ch ili and whether they would have any acute physical reactions to the chili sauce (e.g., an allergy). Eating a piece of tastele ss bread covered in chili sauce may be more acceptable for par- ticipants than just eating chili sauce, though it seems less common in daily life. Participants in the control condition were instructed to just eat a plain piece of tasteless bread.
Next, participants were asked to complete the PANAS. After completing the PANAS, participants did the IGT, which was presented in Inquisit 3.0 on a computer. After completion, participants were debriefed and thanked.
4.2 Results All participants’ data were available for analyses.
Independent-samples t-tests were conducted to compare dif- ferences between the spicy group and the control group. As shown in Table 3, baseline assessments revealed no signi – cant di erences between the two groups ( t (49) = –.33, p> .05, ESd = –.10). Additionally, positive a ect ( t (49) = –.24, p> .05, ESd = .14) and negative a ect ( t (49) = –.15, p> .05, ESd = –.04) did not signi cantly di er between the two groups.
Further analyses revealed that individuals in the spicy gro up were more inclined to take risks during the IGT compared to those in the control group ( t (49) = 3.08, p< .01, ESd= .86). 2 DOSPERT-C scores correlated non-signi cantly in the predicted direction ( r= .06) with IGT. There could be sev- eral reasons for this low correlation, aside from the small sample size. Firstly, the DOSPERT and IGT are very distinct methods for measuring risk-taking tendencies, which could result in low interrelationships. Secondly, the chili sauc e ma- nipulation could elicit di erent e ects on IGT performance , even if participants’ initial DOSPERT scores were similar across groups. Finally, although Hu and Xie (2012) revised the DOSPERT for Chinese participants, some items on this scale are still regarded as problematic according to partic i- pants’ feedback. Thus, participants’ reports could have be en a ected by problematic expressions.
5 Discussion Previous research suggests that gustatory experiences are of- ten involved in our understanding of social cognition. For example, sweet tastes are related to prosocial personality traits (Meier et al., 2012) and romantic perceptions betwee n lovers (Ren et al., 2015), while bitter tastes are associate d with survival motivation and moral disgust (Chapman et al., 2009; Chen & Chang, 2012; Eskine et al., 2011). Our stud- ies attempted to establish a relationship between spicy tas te preferences and risk-seeking tendencies/behaviors. Stud y 1 showed that participants perceived individuals that like d spicy tastes as being more risk seeking. This belief has been 2 Additional analysis con rmed this e ect by tting a straight line to each participant’s choice of the risky decks and examine the i ntercept at the point of the last choice. This analysis was thus more sensitiv e to experience with the task and less sensitive to initial tendency to choos e one deck or another. The intercept also also showed a highly signi cant group di erence ( t 45 = 3.66, p= .001. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 11, No. 6, November 2016 Spicy taste and risk seeking551 Table 3: Descriptive statistics and t-values for the DOSPERT-C, PANAS, and IGT. DOSPERT-C Positive a ect Negative a ect IGT Spicy Control Spicy Control Spicy Control Spicy Control N 25 26 25 26 25 26 25 26 M 2.74 2.78 2.96 2.85 1.75 1.78 61.60 52.85 SD .33 .46 .81 .71 .49 .83 11.62 8.51 t –.33 .50 –.15 3.08 p >.05 >.05 >.05 <.01 t-value indicates the comparison between the control group a nd the spicy group.
observed within a variety of cultures worldwide. For exam- ple, in some areas of China, such as Sichuan and Chongqing, local residents with a preference for spicy foods are re- garded as big-hearted, brave, and irritable (Ji et al., 2013 ).
There is also a stereotype within Mexican culture that peopl e who enjoy chili peppers are perceived to be more masculine (Rozin & Schiller, 1980). In the US, eating chili peppers is grouped with several risk-seeking activities, including g am- bling and riding roller coasters (Byrnes & Hayes, 2013).
Study 2 demonstrated that people reporting a preference for spicy tastes actually scored higher on a risk-seeking mea- sure (DOSPERT-C). This nding provides support for the perceived association between spicy taste preferences and risk-seeking tendencies. Finally, in Study 3, a propensity for actually engaging in risky behaviors increased after co n- suming a spicy food. Together, these three studies provide evidence that spicy food preferences may be reliably linked to risk-seeking attitudes and behaviors. In the three studies, we found supportive evidence for the link between spicy tastes and risk-seeking personality tra its.
The biological underpinnings linking spicy taste experien ces and risk-seeking behavior may also support this relationsh ip.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward system and is involved in risky behaviors and deci- sion making, including gambling and addiction. Byrnes and Hayes (2016) revealed a positive relationship between rewa rd sensitivity and yearly spicy food intake. It is possible tha t the dopaminergic reward system could play a role in savoring spicy food and resultant risk-taking tendencies/behavior s.
Spicy taste could stimulate dopamine.
Study 3 observed that spicy food consumption led to more risk-seeking behaviors, but we were unable to fully conclud e that spicy taste consumption actually predicts risk-seeki ng behaviors. Although personality traits are somewhat a ect ed by situational factors (Schwarz, 1999), such traits tend to be relatively stable over time (McCrae & Costa, 1994). Fur- thermore, there are inconsistencies in whether the IGT ac- tually uncovers true risk-seeking patterns (Dunn, Dalglei sh& Lawrence, 2006); thus, more risk-seeking tendencies on the IGT do not necessarily represent a dispositional trait.
In addition, it is highly possible that personality plays a sig nif- icant role on determining spicy food preferences (Stevens, 1996). Thus, any causal association between spicy tastes an d risk-seeking should be carefully addressed in future studi es.
Our studies observed potential relationships between spic y tastes and risk-seeking, which constitutes a contribution to existing literature. Firstly, we provided evidence that in – dividuals assume that others’ who prefer spicy tastes are more likely to take risks (Study 1). This was con rmed by individuals who reported spicy taste preferences actual ly endorsing more risk-taking behaviors (Study 2). Finally, we observed that risky behaviors were facilitated by the ac- tual consumption of spicy foods in the lab. While previous literature assessing spicy taste preferences has been con- ducted on Western samples, the current studies extended our understanding of spicy tastes and risk seeking among Chi- nese samples. China has a long history of producing and consuming spicy food, legitimizing assessments into these taste-personality links within this context. A few study limitations should be noted. For instance, in Study 3, we compared only two conditions (spicy group and control group) and did not address other taste condition s (e.g., sour, sweet, and bitter). It is unknown whether other tastes would a ect IGT performance, which limits interpre- tations of our present ndings. And we found no correlation between the DOSPERT-C and the IGT (and did not examine individual di erences in spicy taste preferences); this pr ob- lem does not a ect the main result (an e ect of eating spicy food on the IGT), because of random assignment to condi- tions. Overall, the present results are an initial step towa rd understanding the potential relationship between spicy ta stes and risk taking. Future work will need to continue carefully examining additional variables that could possibly in uen ce this relationship. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 11, No. 6, November 2016 Spicy taste and risk seeking552 References Anderson, M. L. (2003). Embodied cognition: A eld guide. Arti cial Intelligence, 149 (1), 91–130.
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