Psychophysical comparisons seem to show that obese individuals experience normal sweet and fat sensations, they like sweetness the same or less, but like fat more than the non-obese do. These psychophysical comparisons have been made using scales (visual analogue or category) that assume intensity labels (e.g. extremely) which denote the same absolute perceived intensity to all. In reality, the perceived intensities denoted by labels vary because they depend on experiences with the substances to be judged. This variation makes comparisons invalid. Valid comparisons can be made by asking the subjects to rate their sensory/hedonic experiences in contexts that are not related to the specific experiences of interest. Using this methodology, we present the evidence that the sensory and hedonic properties of sweet and fat vary with body mass index. The obese live in different orosensory and orohedonic worlds than do the non-obese; the obese experience reduced sweetness, which probably intensifies fat sensations, and the obese like both sweet and fat more than the non-obese do. Genetic variation as well as taste pathology contribute to these results. These psychophysical advances will impact experimental as well as clinical studies of obesity and other eating disorders.
↵† On leave for the academic year 2005–2006 at: Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Florida, PO Box 100165, Gainesville, FL 32610-0165, USA.
One contribution of 16 to a Theme Issue ‘Appetite’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society