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The Experience of Eating: The effects of music on food-taste, food-pleasantness, and the rate of mastication

Bajic, Vladislava (2018) The Experience of Eating: The effects of music on food-taste, food-pleasantness, and the rate of mastication. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:67019)

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The prevalence of obesity and overweight presents one of the most serious health challenges for the UK and the rest of the developed world. According to recent figures about a quarter of adults in the UK are obese. Children are becoming obese at a younger age and they remain obese for longer, a third of children between the ages of 2 and 15 are either overweight or obese. Reports suggest that we spend more each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we do on the police, fire service, and judicial system combined. Therefore, the cost of the obesity epidemic is high and the associated societal burden substantial.

Obesity is a multi-factorial disorder with a wide range of biological, psychological and social contributors. However, at the root of obesity is the energy imbalance caused by taking in more calories through food than expending through activity, in other words overeating. Recommended non-medical solutions include behavioural interventions, controlled calorie intake, and regular exercise. So far, these approaches to tackling obesity have been largely ineffective. The lack of efficacy of conventional treatments to date highlights the need to explore alternative avenues and look for novel solutions to the problem. The focus of this thesis is to investigate the possibility of utilising music in the ongoing effort to curb obesity and overweight.

Listening to music is a pleasurable activity that is cognitively undemanding and its implementation does not require much effort. Music is also easily accessible, customizable, portable, and relatively inexpensive. The ability of music to influence arousal and the mood of individuals has made listening to music one of the favourite emotion regulation strategies across all age groups. Music has been used as a successful motivational tool in exercise and this represents its main contribution to the obesity effort so far. However, the vast potential of music to directly influence eating behaviours and consequently eating outcomes remains largely untapped.

This thesis develops and tests the notion that listening to music can provide an alternative or complementary treatment to support weight loss programs and special eating regimes. In addition, it investigates the experiences of eating in the general population in order to tap into the meanings, connotations, and associations related to these experiences. These narratives should provide additional insights whether and how music could be utilized best in the context of eating, particularly in relation to food-taste, food-pleasantness, and emotional eating.

A mixed-method approach was undertaken. Three studies were conducted - two quantitative laboratory studies, and one qualitative study comprising interviews. The first laboratory study investigates the influence of music on the perception of taste. The existence of cross-modal correspondences between different senses allows music to exert an influence on the perception of taste. The potentiality of music to modify perceptions of taste of more bland-tasting, healthy foods could be advantageous when adhering to specific diets; low sugar in particular. The second laboratory study investigates the effect of the speed of music on the rate of mastication. The influence of music on the levels of arousal and consequently the speed of chewing could lead to slower eating thus reducing the incidents of overeating which are often a consequence of eating too fast. The third study consists of four largely unstructured interviews which explore the lived experience of eating. The aim of the study was to investigate the "experience of eating" as understood and narrated by participants to ascertain whether a basis and adequate conditions for utilization of applied music exist in their day-to-day lives.

The findings of the first experiment suggest that taste congruent music has a significant effect on both the perception of food-taste and hedonic ratings for sweet as well as bland-tasting-healthy food items. The results of the second experiment indicate that the speed of music (slow, moderate and fast) has a significant effect on the rate of mastication e.g. slow music is related to a lower number of bites per minute. The interviews highlighted important and interesting insights about what eating means to individuals and how often they rely on food and eating as a way to improve/change the way they feel. It is conceivable that utilizing music as an alternative/additional coping strategy could reduce the need to rely on food to the same effect. Findings also suggest that food-taste is a significant factor in day-to-day food selection and food consumption. Applied music could be used to modify the perception of food-taste and its desirability and in so doing influence food choices. The limitations of the study, methodological issues and future research directions are discussed. Overall, this thesis posits that music might be a promising line of enquiry in a continuing search for appropriate and cost-effective solutions to the current obesity crises.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Uncontrolled keywords: music, eating behavior, rate of mastication, food-taste, food-pleasantness, obesity-related overeating
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 14 May 2018 16:10 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:54 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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