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Culinary Cognition: The Interplay Between Visual Sensory Cues, Food Memory, And Food Perception

This study provides insight to food producers and marketers about consumers’ decision-making processes through visual cues and high-level cognitive factors, where consumers frequently make food selections without tasting them at online and/or onsite locations that the foods are offered. We analyzed (1) how food memory associated with a food product affects consumer’ perception, and (2) which visual sensory cues are most significant for food preference and how these cues interact. A traditional dessert, helva, with collective memories and sensory expectations among participants, was selected as a case study. A functional food product was formulated by modifying a traditional recipe of helva to produce model food products. For that, the butter was replaced with pumpkin seed flour in varying amounts: 10%, 20%, 30%, and 40%, respectively, while keeping the rest of the traditional recipe the same. The modification of fat contents resulted in a gradual shift from the typical visual attributes of the product that consumers have stored in their memories. Various image compositions of the model products were taken and used as visual sensory cues in the study. The study compared data from two groups of participants. The first group, referred as the 'food item’ group, received images showing the entire model food product. This allowed them to clearly see the complete food item. The second group, the 'visual item' group, received images showing only a section of the product, resembling ordinary objects rather than clearly indicating that it was food. Both groups responded to questions about how they perceive the products via visual stimuli (images). Our results indicate that visual sensory cues used in food-based decisions are more interdependent, e.g., rougher products are perceived to be darker, compared to those used in decisions about perceived ordinary objects. Furthermore, in the food item group, 11 pairs of visual sensory cues showed significant correlation (e.g., softer products appear stickier), whereas only one pair of sensory cues was correlated in the visual item group. We propose that food memory and top-down attention influence food perception via visual cues, and thus product choices. This study can provide valuable insights for food businesses to create effective neuromarketing strategies that influence consumer behavior.
Published on April 2, 2024
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