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Cognitive Common Currency or Contextual Bargaining ? A new model for food preferences

Final Report Summary - 4CB (Cognitive Common Currency or Contextual Bargaining ? A new model for food preferences)

Perceivers and consumers behaviour presents an important variety. One of the most challenging and salient case of variety is presented by consumers' behaviour. As summarised by Köster (2009), the recurrent question in the domain of food studies is: ‘‘Why does who eat what, when and where?’’ Answering this question implies taking into account the context surrounding a situation of food consumption. But what is the context? A basic dictionary defines it as the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event or situation. Although most authors would agree with this general definition, different questions remain: which variables should be included as contextual (external vs. internal to the consumers)? How do the variables interact (additive vs. integrative way)? And how can contextual influences be studied, noticeably using controlled laboratory protocols?

The present project investigated these questions through a novel approach combining cognitive neuroscience, experimental psychology and fundamental conceptual approaches. Its main results have been to challenge the clear divide between low-level perceptual or emotional influences (i.e.heat and thirst increases drinking behaviour) and high level cognitive influences (e.g. cultural background and expectations regarding specific products) by studying the role of feelings of congruence between a product and its environment. These feelings of congruence are based on internalised statistical regularities, and not necessarily explicit or rational.

Besides the theoretical investigation of the category of crossmodal congruence (or correspondence), the present project also evidenced a series of such correspondences (between sounds and odours ; shapes and tastes ; shapes and flavours - for instance, bitter tastes are considered congruent with angular and not rounded shapes) and bridged gaps with the investigation of the behavioral, cognitive and emotional effects of these correspondences in other modalities.

These results have an important potential in terms of guiding behaviour ('nudging') and contacts were made with several companies interested in their exploitation.