Scientific evidence reveals that the brain perceives taste with all senses

Scientific evidence reveals that the brain perceives taste with all senses
Dr. Alfredo Fontanini looks at slides of the gustatory cortex, the part of the brain that mediates the perception of taste. Credit: Stony Brook University

The phrase "it looks so good you can almost taste it" may actually be scientifically proven based on the findings of a new study by Stony Brook University researchers that explored how the brain processes stimuli predicting taste. They discovered that the gustatory cortex, the part of the brain that mediates the conscious perception of taste, relies on all the senses to anticipate taste. The overall results, published early online in eLife, change the way neuroscientists think about the role of the gustatory cortex.

"We found that the gustatory cortex receives information from all the senses, not just ," said Alfredo Fontanini, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, a co-author of the study along with Roberto Vincis, a in the department. He summarized that "Not all the non-gustatory stimuli are equally effective in activating the gustatory cortex, those that can easily be linked to taste tend to recruit more neurons. Olfaction is particularly effective."

In the paper, titled "Associative learning changes cross-modal representations in the gustatory cortex," the investigators concluded that the gustatory cortex' ability to represent stimuli of multiple modalities is greatly boosted by learning that they can predict taste.

Credit: Stony Brook University

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Sep 02, 2016
Tasting something new, whether a new form of alcohol, meat, or dish, we tend to taste the components more intensely until we 'acquire a taste' for the new food after which we taste the 'music' equivalent.

For vision we can point to driving in an unfamiliar city. There seems to be so many more traffic lights, billboards and distractions of every kind. But these seem to diminish with familiarity. Not quite 'music' but a similar phenomena.

A quick comparison between the two forms can be had by simply turning a page of text upside down. Providing you are not a prolific upsidedown reader you will note that the whole page seems to be in greater focus and there seems to be much more text than it does when you turn it right side up.

Sep 02, 2016
What we experience as taste is not the raw sensation at all.

Contrast 'music', an experience which is based on sounds but is learned. Hearing an entirely new kind of music for the first time one experiences a jumble of sounds that do not make any sense. Just as for unfamiliar languages we hear every syllable and the language seems to be spoken at a frenetic pace but for familiar languages our brain clumps the sounds in recognisable words and phrases, for music our brain starts to recognise melody, rhythm and familiar passages that is the musical experience we enjoy.

All the senses have this two layered form including taste. Those of us who can remember our very early years and the barrage of new tastes will recall how different things tasted as compared to our mature tasting ability, and it is not just intensity that changes.

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