Research Article: Can you eat it? A link between categorization difficulty and food likability

Date Published: August 21, 2012

Publisher: University of Finance and Management in Warsaw

Author(s): Yuki Yamada, Takahiro Kawabe, Keiko Ihaya.


In the present study we examined whether categorization difficulty regarding a
food is related to its likability. For this purpose, we produced stimulus images
by morphing photographs of a tomato and a strawberry. Subjects categorized these
images as either a tomato or a strawberry and in separate sessions evaluated the
food’s eatability or the subject’s willingness to eat (Experiments 1 and 2) and
the likeliness of existence of each food (Experiment 2). The lowest score for
ca- tegorization confidence coincided with the lowest scores for eatability,
willingness to eat, and likeliness of existence. In Experiment 3, we found that
food neophobia, a trait of ingestion avoidance of novel foods, modulated food
likability but not categorization confidence. These findings suggest that a high
categorization difficulty generally co-occurs with a decrease in food likability
and that food neophobia modulates likability. This avoidance of
difficult-to-categorize foods seems ecologically valid because before eating we
have little information regarding whether a food is potentially harmful.

Partial Text

In daily life, we categorize various objects, people, and events into appropriate
categories (e.g., “It is a fruit”; “He is Japanese”; or
“This story is a lie”). Appropriate categorization is essential for
adaptive life; if we cannot correctly categorize an object as safe or dangerous, we
can neither avoid the danger nor reach safety. It is known that we feel a negative
impression of an object if we find it difficult to categorize (Yamada, Kawabe, & Ihaya, in press). Yamada et al. showed
that cate-gorization difficulty is related to the uncanny valley phenomenon, in
which human-like robots sometimes elicit unpleasant impressions of human observers
who watch the robots, such as eeriness and disgust (Mori, 1970). Yamada et al. morphed two images of real, cartoon, or
stuffed human facial images. Subjects were then asked to categorize the stimulus
images and to evaluate the likability of each face. The results showed that
likability decreased when categorization was difficult. They obtained similar
results when using stimulus images created by morphing images of different dogs
instead of human facial images, suggesting that this effect was not
stimulus-specific. These results were interpreted as indicating that categorization
difficulty of an object is closely linked to its likability.

In Experiment 3, we investigated how food neophobia modulates the effect of
categorization difficulty on food likability. For this purpose, we employed a food
neophobia scale (Imada & Yoneyama, 1998)
to measure the degree of individuals’ food neophobia traits. This scale was
developed for testing food neophobia in Japanese people, based on the original scale
of Pliner and Hobden (1992).

The present study was performed to examine whether categorization difficulty of a
food based on its appearance is related to food likability. We presented the
subjects with stimulus images created by morphing tomato and strawberry photographs
and asked them to categorize the food in each image and to evaluate eatability or
willingness to eat as indices of food likability. In Experiment 1, lower confidence
in categorization of a food coincided with lower evaluations of eatability and
willingness to eat, suggesting that categorization difficulty of food was strongly
related to food likability. In Experiment 2, categorization difficulty was also
related to likeliness of existence of a food. In Experiment 3, individual difference
in food neophobia was a factor that modulated the effect of categorization
difficulty on food likability and likeliness of existence of a food.




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