Researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria published a study in the journal Appetite linking the love of bitter tastes to antisocial personality traits like psychopathy. But is the research all it’s cracked up to be?
The original study used a sample of 953 Americans who were roughly 35 years of age, on average, to study the possible connection between taste preference and personality. Subjects filled out questionnaires to self-report their love of bitter, sweet, sour, and salty tastes.
They also answered 36 questions designed to identify the following traits:
- Machiavellianism (that is, deceptive and manipulative behavior)
- Psychopathy (impaired empathy and lack of remorse)
- Sadism (deriving pleasure from inflicting pain and suffering on others)
- The “Big Five factors” of personality (which are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience)
The study confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that those who prefer bitter tastes are more likely to answer questions in a way that indicates that may have negative personality traits. Bitter-lovers were especially likely to be identified as having sadistic and psychopathic traits, according to this study.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can identify a bad person by the way they take their coffee. It’s simply one piece of evidence that shows there may be some connection between taste preferences and personality. While the questionnaires showed that taste and personality often match up, it could not prove that one causes the other, nor that the link was statistically very significant.
Older studies have shown that taste preferences can develop in the womb and continue to develop throughout childhood. While many of us acquire tastes for new things later in life, our early years are often what prepares our tastebuds for the future.
It’s interesting to note that early childhood experiences can also influence negative personality traits. We can see why the researchers would develop the hypothesis that there might be a connection between taste and personality since both can develop in childhood.
But there’s a lot of debate about whether this research actually proved anything meaningful.
It certainly doesn’t indicate that introducing your child to bitter food is going to turn them into a psychopath later in life.
In fact, “bitter” is actually a completely subjective taste experience. Let’s go back to coffee – some of the most popular coffee in America (we won’t name any names here) is simply unpalatable to people who like their coffee black, precisely because they think it’s too bitter. Your version of bitter coffee can be completely different from someone else’s.
A new article in the magazine Health helps clarify the Austrian study. The author points out a few important things:
- It’s not just coffee that’s in question here, it’s all bitter foods, from kale to radishes.
- The study only found a very small correlation between taste preferences and personality.
- The findings still need to be replicated before we take them seriously.
- There are lots of other things that determine taste preferences, such as cultural norms and what’s available to you.
Black coffee has actually been shown to have health benefits, so we need to be careful when we pass on research casting it in a negative light. And sweetening up your coffee in an attempt to make it less bitter might correlate to being a more agreeable person, but it also adds fat and calories and eliminates the health benefits.
Many coffee lovers will say that good coffee, properly prepared, isn’t bitter at all. Maybe people calling coffee “bitter” just need to drink the good stuff!
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Source: Reader’s Digest