A longitudinal examination of the role of sensory exploratory behaviors in young children's acceptance of new foods

Kameron J. Moding, Laura L. Bellows, Kevin J. Grimm, Susan L. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Objective: Prompted engagement with a new food's sensory properties (smell, texture) has been associated with young children's acceptance of new foods. However, little is known about the prevalence and stability of children's sensory exploratory behaviors exhibited spontaneously when trying new foods. The aim of this analysis was to examine developmental trajectories of sensory exploratory behaviors (i.e., smelling, licking, spitting) in response to new foods. Method: This 3-year longitudinal study included observational data collected from 244 preschoolers. At age 4 years, children were asked to taste four novel foods. An experimenter recorded the child's displays of smelling, licking, spitting, refusals, and acceptance. Assessments were repeated at 4.5, 5.5, and 6.5 years of age. Summary scores were created for each child by totaling the number of foods smelled, licked, spit out, refused, and accepted at each time point. A series of growth models were fit to the summary scores to examine individual sensory behavior trajectories and associations between trajectories of sensory behaviors and acceptance. Results: Linear growth model parameters indicated that spitting and refusals decreased over time (p-values < 0.01), whereas acceptances increased (p < 0.01). Licking and smelling showed non-significant change (p-values > 0.01) Furthermore, decreases in licking, spitting, and refusals were associated with increases in acceptance across the study period (p-values < 0.01). Discussion: The decline in young children's sensory exploratory behaviors in response to new foods was associated with increases in food acceptance. Our findings suggest that sensory exploratory behaviors may promote familiarity and help children learn that new foods are acceptable and safe to consume.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112821
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • Eating behavior
  • Exploratory behavior
  • Longitudinal
  • Preschooler

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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