Assignment: Personality Judgment and Decision Making
The potential relationship between spicy taste and risk seeking
Xue Wang∗ Liuna Geng† Jiawen Qin∗ Sixie Yao∗
We conducted three studies to examine the relationship between spicy tastes and 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 spicy foods are actually more risk seeking. In fact, people who reported a preference for spicy tastes scored higher on risk taking, as assessed via the Domain-Specific Risk-Taking
Scale (Chinese version). Finally, Study 3 employed an experimental design 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 findings suggest that preferences for spicy tastes could relate to risk-seeking tendencies and subsequent risk-seeking behaviors.
Keywords: spicy taste, risk seeking, personality.
In the past decade, psychologists and nutritionists have examined the relationship between personality traits and food choices. Several studies suggest that personality traits influence consumption of specific foods or substances. For example, among the Big 5 personality factors, conscientiousness and openness to experience are positively associated with vegetable and fruit consumption (Raynor & Levine, 2009) and negatively associated with eating meat products (Mõttus et al., 2012). Research has also shown that an increased preference for caffeine is associated with higher levels of sensation seeking (Mattes, 1994). More abstractly, scholars have addressed factors underlying taste preferences, particularly the relationship between taste preferences and personality.
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 spices that produce oral irritation), preferences have been observed around the world (especially Africa, India, China, and Mexico; 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 resultant painful sensations. While physiological reactions Funding: The study described in this report was supported by the Jiangsu university philosophy social science fund project “the mentality in the period of social transformation” (No. 2015JDXM003). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, Copyright: © 2016. The authors license this article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. ∗Department of Psychology, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China. †Corresponding author. Department of Psychology, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China. Email: email@example.com.
affect preferences for spicy tastes, additional evidence suggests that these taste preferences could be influenced by personality factors (Bartoshuk, 1993; Duffy, 2007; Duffy & Bartoshuk, 2000; Miller & Reedy, 1990), social and cultural contexts (Rozin & Schiller, 1980; Stevens, 1990), and repeated exposure to spicy cuisine (Logue & Smith, 1986). Personality Judgment and Decision Making.
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 relationship between sensation-seeking behaviors and enjoying chili-containing foods (Byrnes & Hayes, 2013, 2015). Spicy tastes create strong sensations (Ludy & Mattes, 2012), and sensation seeking is an important predictor of risky behaviors, including aspects of criminality and social violations (Horvath & Zuckerman, 1993). More direct evidence is indicated 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 to risk-seeking tendencies. Benign masochism refers to the enjoyment derived from negative experiences that we initially perceive as threatening (e.g., eating peppers, riding roller coasters, etc.; Rozin & Schiller, 1980; Schweid, 1980). Although eating spicy foods is typically accompanied by defensive responses within the body (e.g., teary eyes and a runny nose), certain individuals’ preferred level of piquancy is below any tolerance level.
Thus, while our body interprets eating spicy food as risky, our mind seems to regard this behavior as safe or at least a “constrained risk”. Furthermore, Rozin and colleagues provided systematic evidence for benign masochism across a range of activities, including spicy taste consumption, and observed a positive correlation between benign masochism and sensation seeking (Rozin, Guillot, Fincher, Rozin & Tsukayama, 2013).
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 11, No. 6.
Based on the aforementioned literature, we explored the relationship between spicy taste and risk-seeking traits and behaviors. Study 1 implemented a personality judgment task to examine beliefs that pertain to preferences for spicy foods and risk seeking. We hypothesized that participants would ascribe a higher level of risk seeking to individuals who enjoy spicy tastes. Study 2 was an extension of Study 1 and examined whether people who like spicy foods actually engage in more risky behaviors. More specifically, do people’s taste preferences vary according to personality?
We sought to answer this question, particularly as it pertains to preferences 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 relied on self-report assessments of these constructs. Finally, Study 3 investigated actual behavioral links to spicy taste preferences and risk seeking. Thus, we examined whether momentarily savoring a spicy food would influence 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
Forty-nine Chinese students (28 females) from Nanjing University voluntarily participated in this study. The mean age of the sample was 21.36 years (SD = 2.14), ranging from 18 to 27 years.
Personality Judgment and Decision Making
The Chinese Facial Affective Picture System. Previous research has demonstrated the existence of facial stereotypes whereby people tend to associate attractiveness with positive personality traits. Thus, we utilized a personality judgment task aimed at preventing participants from determining attractiveness 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 Affective 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., 2013; Meier, Moeller et al., 2012).
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