Smells Delicious!

Snack time! Brownie or…cucumber? 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Our prehistoric ancestors hunted for high-calorie prey to survive. Fortunately, WE don’t have to hunt farther than the nearest cafeteria for our next meal. But do we still have the instincts to sniff out the most nutritious snacks? 

Enter Rachel de Vries and colleagues from Wageningen University and Research. 

They had over five hundred volunteers follow a maze. Along the route were either food samples or food-scented cotton pads. These included high calorie snacks, like peanuts and brownies, or low-cal, like melons. 

When volunteers reached the sample, they tasted OR smelled it, depending on sample type. Then, they mapped out where each food was placed in the maze. Which food’s locations did they remember the best?

Both groups – smell and taste – more accurately located HIGH calorie foods over low calorie. But people were two and half times more accurate if they had actually TASTED the food!

The researchers say this suggests that although we no longer hunt, our senses and spatial memory are still fully intact.

The nearest pizza joint? I could find it with my eyes closed! Blame my ancestors.

Reference: de Vries, R., Morquecho-Campos, P., de Vet, E., de Rijk, M., Postma, E., de Graaf, K., … & Boesveldt, S. (2020). Human spatial memory implicitly prioritizes high-calorie foods. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1-6.