Quick estimation of taste sensitivity[Bearbeiten]
The sense of taste is the key to distinction of potentially nutritious or harmful food constituents and thereby for the acceptance of food. Changes in taste perception, as they occur during ageing or as the result of a disease, are thought to foster deviant eating behavior (see e.g. Hardikar et al., 2016). While decreased taste sensitivity may lead to malnutrition and associated weight loss, decreased hedonic experience or valuation has been suggested to contribute to access food intake and associated weight gain. Age-related decline of taste function goes commonly unnoticed or, if observed, is often mistaken for loss of smell (Bromley, 2000), partly because taste experiences have little to no external or social reference like difficulties in reading the daily newspaper or following a conversation, which are typical external indicators for impairment of sight and hearing. Instead, impaired taste is often attributed externally, e.g. to poor food quality. When taste ability is impaired, this might impact social participation (cooking or dining with friends) and reduce pleasure derived from eating (anhedonic effect). This shows that measurement of taste function or taste sensitivity (i.e., the ability to taste) can be of high diagnostic value.
Sensory sensitivity can be measured by preparing a set of pre-defined stimuli of different intensities, e.g. solutions with different amounts of sugar or sounds with different volume, and presenting them to the participant according to a particular algorithm. The participant would then respond whether they perceived the stimulus or not, and the response would determine which stimulus to present next. The goal is to find the stimulus intensity that the participant can perceive only a certain number of times (e.g., in 50% or 75% of all stimulations), owing to the stochastic properties of stimulus perception. While very efficient methods for measuring sensory sensitivity exist in the non-chemical senses (vision, audition, and touch), their application to taste is typically limited by the fact that relatively long breaks (inter-stimulus intervals, ISIs) have to be inserted between subsequent stimulus presentations. That is, to avoid adaptation, ISIs of 20 to 30 s are typically used. Therefore, measuring taste sensitivity requires long-lasting testing session, causing particular strain to participants’ memory and cognitive resources, making these methods unsuitable for application in the elderly or at bed-side testing after an accident.
For this reason, we adapted QUEST (Watson & Pelli, 1983), an algorithm commonly used in vision science for the application in taste. We could show that it allows for a quick (6.5 min on average) and reliable estimation of taste sensitivity in participants aged 18 to 65 years (Höchenberger et al., 2017). The procedure has been presented at international conferences already and was highly acclaimed.
However, to be of larger practical use for clinical diagnostics, more data needs to be collected to build a “norm data base” of healthy participants, i.e. a large set of reference data. These data can later be used to determine whether an individual’s tasting abilities are within “normal” range, or whether the sense of taste is impaired.
By allowing researchers from different institutions to work collaboratively easily, I am confident the idea behind and the benefits of an Open Science approach will be spread in this research area.
Bromley, SM (2000): Smell and taste disorders: a primary care approach. American Academy of Family Physicians, 61(2):427-436.
Hardikar, S, Höchenberger, R, Villringer, A, & Ohla, K (2016): Higher sensitivity to sweet and salty taste in obese compared to lean individuals. Appetite, 111, 158–168. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.12.017
Höchenberger, R, & Ohla, K (2017): Rapid Estimation of Gustatory Sensitivity Thresholds with SIAM and QUEST. Frontiers in Psychology, 8:981. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00981
Watson, AB, & Pelli, D (1983): QUEST: A Bayesian adaptive psychometric method. Perception & Psychophysics, 33(2):113–120. doi: 10.3758/BF03202828
- Name: Richard Höchenberger
- Institution: German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke
- Kontakt: firstname.lastname@example.org