Growing up, kids are told to sit down at the table when they’re eating. Now scientists have given credence to this advice with a study finding that standing up while eating can change taste perception, temperature sensation and even how much is consumed.

There is a trend for more and more food to be eaten ‘on the go.’ That can mean fewer traditional meals eaten at a table and more eaten while moving from place to place or even getting a quick meal standing up before moving on to the next pressing engagement of the day. T

he business of life aside, scientists are now questioning if there could be something inherently different about standing up that can affect perception and consumption of food.

The traditional five senses of taste, sight, sound, touch and smell can all affect the eating experience. So could an additional sense system, that being the vestibular system responsible for balance and posture, also influence eating sensations?

The theory is that when people experience some form of stress or discomfort, food does not taste as good. Standing up is thought to cause a mild stress to the body – so how much could this stress influence the experience of eating?

Over a series of six different experiments involving several hundred volunteers, researchers explored standing versus sitting on food taste and enjoyment, temperature perception, and volume of food consumed.

The studies found that people who were sitting rated delicious-tasting food such as freshly baked brownies more highly compared to when the same food was eaten standing up.

When the same food was made ‘less delicious’ by adding too much salt to the recipe, people sitting down rated the food poorly. Surprisingly, those standing up did not notice the difference.

It wasn’t just taste perception that was affected. Temperature perception of hot beverages such as coffee was rated stronger and more intense when sitting down compared to standing up.

And there was also an effect on how much was drunk. Drinking coffee while standing led to less being drunk.

Just to raise the stakes for how mild stress can alter the eating experience, volunteers tried fruit snacks while carrying a shopping bag. The stress of the extra weight meant that both people either sitting and standing rated food to be less tasty.

Whether it’s standing or engaging in some form of extra exertion such as carrying a heavy bag, the low-level stress placed on the body is enough to mute taste buds and affect appetite.

This makes sense from a physiological point of view as when the body is under some form of stress, the body is primed in a more ‘fight or flight’ direction rather than in the opposite ‘rest and digest’ direction.

Implications

Taking the time to appreciate eating for the experience it is, also means to be in the right physical space and that means sitting down and giving your attention to the food at hand.

Last Reviewed: 21/04/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Biswas D et al. Extending the boundaries of sensory marketing and examining the sixth sensory system: effects of vestibular sensations for sitting versus standing postures on food taste perception. Journal of Consumer Research Epub online 11 May 2019 doi: 10.1093/jcr/ucz018.