Conditioned food preferences

Elizabeth D. Capaldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


This chapter explores that humans have receptors for four basic tastes: salt, sour, bitter, and sweet. Initial affective reactions to these four tastes appear to be genetically mediated. Initial reaction to the four basic tastes appears to be genetically mediated, in omnivores such as rats and humans most food preferences are produced by experience. This may seem anti-intuitive because individuals seem to have strong preferences upon initial contact with food. In theory at least, many of these preferences can be accounted for in terms of differences in individual experiences with foods. Individuals differ widely in their experiences with foods, and laboratory research has shown that different experiences with foods can produce long-lasting conditioned food preferences. By the age of 6 months, large individual differences in preference for sweet develop shows differences that can be traced to experience. Some infants are given sugar water as a pacifier, while others are not. When tested at 6 months of age, infants who have been given sugar water show a greater preference for sweet than those who have not had this experience. Differences in sweet preference between those given sweetened water and those not given sweetened water are still present when the children are 2 years old, even if sweetened water was discontinued. The chapter also discusses that food preferences are affected by learning the consequences associated with ingestion of foods and by associations formed between foods that are experienced together. It aims to review the data from laboratory showing increases in preference for flavors paired with beneficial consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
JournalPsychology of Learning and Motivation - Advances in Research and Theory
Issue numberC
StatePublished - Jan 1 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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