Well, here’s a bit of research news you and your significant other may want to discuss over the dinner table tonight: The longer couples have been together, the more likely they are to share similar smell and taste preferences, according to a small but intriguing study published recently in the journal Appetite.
Past studies have suggested that, over time, couples tend to resemble each other in health, appearance and personality. Research has also shown that people tend to shift their eating habits and food choices as they go from being single to being married or living with a partner.
Social scientists believe these kinds of convergences may have an evolutionary purpose: to create more cohesive and stable relationships.
The authors of the new study — psychologists at the University of Wroclaw in Poland and at TU Dresden in Germany — decided to see if shared preferences for smell and taste are also features of long-term coupledom.
The researchers recruited 100 heterosexual couples aged 18 to 68, who had been together for three months to 45 years. The couples were asked to refrain from smoking, eating or drinking anything other than water for 30 minutes prior to undergoing the smell and taste tests. They were also asked to not use any perfumes or other strong fragrances on the day of the tests.
For the smell test, the participants were individually presented with scented felt-tip pens that contained 38 different odors, including cinnamon, lavender, tomato puree, smoked meat, jasmine, white chocolate, leather, banana and eucalyptus. They were asked to rate how much they liked each odor on a scale of one to five.
For the taste test, the participants had the five basic tastes — sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umani — sprayed onto their tongue. (They rinsed their mouths with clean water between sprays.) Again, they were asked to rate how much they liked the taste on a scale of one to five.
The participants also filled out a standard questionnaire that is used by psychologists for assessing people’s satisfaction with their relationships. It included questions such as “Do you enjoy your husband’s/wife’s company?” and “Do you enjoy doing things together?” and “Are you proud of your husband/wife?”
The study found that both taste and smell preferences — but especially taste — were more similar the longer the couples had been in a relationship. Specifically, relationship duration explained 6 percent of the variance in smell among the participants and 9 percent of the variance in taste.
Interestingly, however — and contrary to the researchers’ prediction before they started the study — the convergence of smell and taste preferences did not correlate with the couples expressing greater satisfaction with their relationships. In fact, relationship satisfaction was negatively related to congruence in smell preferences.
Limitations and implications
The study has several limitations, of course. Most notably, it involved only a small number of European couples. Similar findings might not be found in other geographical areas and/or in more diverse populations.
Also, the study was not designed to include data that could assess whether some of the couples with a strong shared preference for smells and tastes began their relationships with that common bond.
Still, the findings support many other studies that have found substantial convergences in couples preferences, interests and behaviors as they spend more years together. Why not taste and smell?
“As partners share household (including kitchen and fridge) and a significant proportion of meals, they are much [more] likely to eat similar types of food,” the authors of the study explain. “Even though the role of genetics in accounting for individual differences in food preferences is well-documented, shared environment and habits and consequently exposure to similar olfactory and gustatory stimuli, might together shape similar preferences in both partners.”
FMI: The study can be read in full on Appetite’s website.