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Make Sure To Include Dessert

By on April 26, 2015

Why Sweet Words, and Tastes, Matter in Relationships

Do you use an occasional sugary term for your romantic partner? Is he your sweetie pie or is she your honeybee? Science has now taken an interest in the candy-coated words we use in reference to the ones we love.

It turns out that pet names like “sweet pea” or “sugar bear,” might reflect a fundamental cognitive link between sugar and love.

New evidence suggests that sweet sensations, like those we conjure up in our terms of endearment, might inadvertently activate a set of romantic thoughts or perceptions (Ren, Tan, Arriaga, & Chan, 2014). The theory? Metaphors are more than metaphors—the words we use might capture a profound link between bodily experiences of taste and how we think and perceive.


In other words, the language of sweetness might trigger the language of love.


To test their idea, Ren and colleagues examined how experiencing a sweet taste sensation might shape evaluations of a new romantic couple. Might tasting something sweet, versus something not sweet, lead individuals to judge relationships as having more romantic feelings? Such evidence would suggest a cognitive link between sweetness and love—our minds might be mapped in such a way that these two seemingly divergent concepts are actually linked.

Participants were led to believe that the research study focused on taste sensation, and they were instructed to eat either sweet Oreos or tangy salt-and-vinegar chips. (In a separate study, participants drank either Fanta or plain distilled water.) After their snack, participants completed a set of survey questions, including questions about a relationship.

The results? Those who’d had the sweet food or drink tended to evaluate the relationship more positively.

The researchers extended their work to show that sweet sensations affect perceptions of potential romantic partners as well. Participants were provided with profiles of purportedly available strangers, and then asked to consume either a sweet beverage or distilled water.
Once again, the sweetness had a powerful effect, even controlling for mood. Those drinking the sweet beverage indicated more romantic interest in the potential partner presented to them, and more interest in starting something romantic with that person.

What does this mean for you?

From a practical standpoint, stack the odds on a first date by taking someone out for ice cream, dessert, or some other sweet treat. It may help activate feelings of romantic interest.

But the big picture take-away is that there are many more questions to be answered: It does seem that metaphorical thinking is more powerful than we might initially have thought. The terms we use for the people we love are not so arbitrary; they may reflect a fundamental cognitive organization in which concrete experiences like a sweet taste are tied to more abstract concepts, like love.
The bodily experience of sweetness and the perception of romantic attraction could be linked, but we still need to know how: Is it a purely cognitive process, or a biological one, potentially involving dopamine?*

We don’t know, but we are off to a sweet start!

*Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them

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