Love Literally Makes Life Sweeter, Says Science



Valentine_Edit_001_GuangXuPhotographed By Guang Xu.
Yes, it's almost that time again. February is right around the corner and with it will surely come the requisite deluge of sticky-sweet, lovey-dovey Valentine's Day nonsense. So, fair warning: This is an article about being in love. But, bear with us for a second because, yes, while it does concern that detested L-word, this one is actually pretty cool.

Psychologists have conducted extensive research on the concept of "embodied metaphors" — idiomatic verbal descriptions that people actually feel — and, much of the evidence suggests that it's a very real thing. People who feel lonely feel cold more often (and more intensely) than others, for example, and a book seen as "important" will physically feel heavier. Now, researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands have found that the experience of being in love actually makes things taste sweeter.

The study involved 290 college students, 197 of whom were asked to write about one of three topics: an experience of being in love, a memory of jealousy, or a non-personal issue. The students were then given candies to taste, either bittersweet chocolate or sweet-and-sour gummies, which were specifically chosen for their balance of sweetness with either bitterness or sourness. When asked to rank the taste of the candies, those who wrote about being in love tasted the candies as sweeter than those who wrote about jealousy or a neutral topic. And, apparently, jealousy doesn't actually taste bitter as writing about it did not affect their taste buds.

Next, the researchers repeated the study with the remainder of the students — only this time, they were given a "new drink product" to taste, which was actually plain old, no-sugar-added distilled water. Again, while recalling jealous emotions didn't change the way the students tasted the water, those who were asked to write about being in love rated the water as having a sweeter taste than their counterparts.

Since the "jealousy is bitter" metaphor seems to have no effect on how we process sensory information, the results suggest that it can't be just the language of a well-worn idiom that makes our senses react in unexpected ways. The researchers theorize that deep-seated associations between love and sweetness, probably dating back to our doting mothers giving us breast milk or formula, are the most likely explanation for this particular embodied metaphor. How sweet! (Sorry, we couldn't resist.) (Scientific American)