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Is there a link between personal food preferences and personality traits?

If a person has a taste for bitter foods and beverages, research suggests he could be more likely to exhibit sadistic and psychopathic personality characteristics - but it’s not definitive

Researchers have established a connection between taste preferences and personality traits. The results of one such study indicate that there is a positive correlation between a preference for bitter taste and antisocial characteristics.

A few studies have demonstrated that there is a link between taste preferences and personality traits. One such study found that preferring a gin and tonic, over a sweeter alcoholic beverage, could indicate toxic personality traits.

True, there is more to this formula. The results of psychological studies are not directly applicable to specific individuals. Nevertheless, it is definitely interesting to follow the development of research into what our dietary preferences might say about our personality.

The link between personal taste and antisocial personality traits

One study has shown a link between bitter taste preferences and antisocial personality traits. This research contains a wealth of information, including discussion of previous research that explores the links between food preferences, practices, experiences and personality.

The subjects, who were part of a large sample with significant variations in age and educational level (from high school to doctorate), self-reported taste preferences and also answered a number of personality questions designed to assess narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism and sadism among other personality traits.

The results showed a connection between a preference for bitter taste and malicious personality traits, with the strongest connection being found with psychopathy and sadism. Compared to salty, sweet and sour taste preferences, bitter taste preferences were the strongest predictor of both traits.

According to the authors of the study, this is the first research to link taste preferences with antisocial characteristics, although previous studies have investigated correlations between taste preferences and personality.

The results of the study also suggest that a preference for bitter taste is a significant predictor of openness to experience and extraversion, in addition to the correlation with less positive characteristics. Tolerance was positively associated with a preference for sweet food, but not for bitter food.

Food preferences and practice

The researchers note that there is a distinction between food preference and practice. For example, they point out that some people avoid desired foods that are expensive or fattening, while they consume other foods to be social or healthy. They also point out that popular foods such as chili pepper, beer, wine and coffee are initially off-putting, but become an acquired taste through exposure and social consequences.

Taste sensitivity

People also differ in taste sensitivity. According to the researchers, supertasting - an increased sensitivity to bitter taste - is associated with a higher degree of emotionality in humans, but also in rats. People who are less sensitive to bitter taste reportedly experience a greater degree of composure.

Since taste preference differs from taste experiences, researchers established that bitter taste experiences have been associated with interpersonal hostility and harsher moral judgments. While sweet taste experiences, on the other hand, were associated with benevolence and helpfulness.

Among the products with the highest bitterness rating were beer, radishes, coffee, tonic water and celery. But this research also looked at the way food is consumed - for example, because some people drink coffee with milk and sugar, which successfully counteracts the bitter taste. The taste of other foods can be changed in a similar way.

Original research:

Sagioglou, C., & Greitemeyer, T. (2016). Individual differences in bitter taste preferences are associated with antisocial personality traits. Appetite, 96, 299-308.

Related research:

Ashton, M. C., Pilkington, A. C., & Lee, K. (2014). Do prosocial people prefer sweet-tasting foods? An attempted replication of Meier, Moeller, Riemer-Peltz, and Robinson (2012). Journal of Research in Personality, 52, 42-46.