Study explores how emotions elicited by chewing gum affect cortical activity

Study explores how emotions elicited by chewing gum affect cortical activity

Study explores how emotions elicited by chewing gum affect cortical activity

Credit: Katie Rainbow, Unsplash.

Some neuroscience studies suggest that distinct human emotional states are associated with greater activity in different regions of the brain. For example, while parts of the brain have been linked to all emotional responses, the hypothalamus has often been linked to sexual responses and feelings of intimacy, the hippocampus to the retrieval of emotion-inducing memories, and the amygdala to fear and anger.

Humans can experience emotional responses to an extremely wide range of sensory and environmental stimuli, including the food they consume. So far, however, relatively few studies have explored the link between emotional states elicited by different food flavors and activity in different parts of the cortex (i.e. the part of the brain responsible for cognitive processes superiors).

Researchers from Niigata University, Hyogo College of Medicine, Meiji University, Sakagami Dental Clinic and Otemae Junior College recently conducted a study on the emotional responses elicited by different flavored chewing gums and on the cortical activity associated with these responses. Their findings, published in Frontiers in Neurosciencehighlight the potential role of the left prefrontal cortex in triggering emotional states upon consumption of palatable (i.e. pleasant-tasting) or less-tasty foods.

“Cortical activity can be modulated by taste-triggered emotional states during food intake,” Yoko Hasegawa and colleagues wrote in their paper. “We examined cortical activity during chewing with different tastes/smells using multi-channel near-infrared spectroscopy.”

Hasegawa and his colleagues conducted their experiments on 36 volunteers. These volunteers were asked to chew different types of gums, some more flavorful and some less flavorful, for 5 minutes each, and then rate those gums in terms of taste, smell, and deliciousness.

As the participants chewed these different types of gum, activity in their cortical area was recorded using near-infrared multi-channel spectroscopy. It is a well-established neuroimaging technique that can be used to monitor cerebral oxygenation noninvasively and in real time.

“Participants rated the taste, smell, and flavor of each gum using a visual analog scale,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Bilateral hemodynamic responses in the frontal and parietal lobes, bilateral masseter muscle activation, and heart rate were measured during gum chewing. Changes in all data measured during gum chewing were also assessed.”

Not surprisingly, Hasegawa and his colleagues found that participants rated each type of gum differently, based on their individual preferences. Nevertheless, they observed that a specific area of ​​the prefrontal cortex, namely the left part, was differently activated when chewing more or less appetizing gummies.

“Hemodynamic responses were significantly elevated in the bilateral primary sensorimotor cortex during chewing compared to rest,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Although hemodynamic responses of large brain regions showed little difference between resting and gum chewing states, a difference was detected in the corresponding left frontopolar/dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Muscle activation and heart rate were not significantly different between different gum types. The left prefrontal cortex might be responsible for emotional states caused by appetizing and unpleasant foods.”

The results of this recent study could contribute to the current understanding of the emotional states caused by the consumption of more or less tasty foods, as well as the cortical regions linked to these states. In the future, they could inspire other teams to conduct similar investigations, potentially leading to new discoveries about how the brain processes and creates different food experiences.

More information:
Yoko Hasegawa et al, Emotional modulation of cortical activity during gum chewing: a functional near-infrared spectroscopy study, Frontiers in Neuroscience (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2022.964351. … 2022.964351/abstract

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