Depression can affect mood, somatic experiences, and emotional reactions. It can also affect cognitive abilities and behaviors. And a recent study led by Petra Platte of the Department of Psychology at the University of Wurzburg in Germany found that mild depression can even affect taste, as well.
Existing research has suggested that emotional variances and stress can have a significant impact on taste. However, Platte’s research is the first to examine induced mood states compared to mild clinical depression and anxiety and to compare how each emotional state differs with respect to taste sensitivity. For the study, Platte assessed 80 participants before exposing them to videos designed to induce sad, happy, and neutral moods. After the video exposure, the participants were instructed to taste sour, sweet, fatty, bitter and savory things and rate them.
Platte found that the participants all rated the taste stimuli correctly, but those with depression had higher sensitivity to sweet stimuli. Also, the taste ratings were more intense for the depressed individuals after all three of the video exposures, suggesting that regardless of mood induction, a unique taste response exists in people with depression.
Another interesting finding was that participants with depression did not alter their rating of fatty foods after the mood induction, but were able to distinguish between high-fat and low-fat foods prior to the video exposure. Anxiety also affected taste perception in that prior to the mood condition, anxious participants were more sensitive to bitter and sweet tastes than they were after the mood condition. But the video clips seemed to increase sensitivity to citric acid for those with anxiety as they reported increases in sensitivity to these flavors after the mood condition.
Platte believes that these findings are novel in that they demonstrate how even subclinical levels of anxiety and depression can influence taste and for depression, can even lead to deficits in fat sensitivity. Platte added, “This deficit may foster unconscious eating of fatty foods in subclinical mildly depressed populations.”
Platte, P., Herbert, C., Pauli, P., Breslin, P.A.S. (2013). Oral perceptions of fat and taste stimuli are modulated by affect and mood induction. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065006
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