Comparing sensory experiences across individuals: recent psychophysical advances illuminate genetic variation in taste perception

Chem Senses. 2000 Aug;25(4):447-60. doi: 10.1093/chemse/25.4.447.


Modern psychophysics has traveled considerably beyond the threshold measures that dominated sensory studies in the first half of this century. Current methods capture the range of perceived intensity from threshold to maximum and promise to provide increasingly accurate comparisons of perceived intensities across individuals. The application of new psychophysical tools to genetic variation in taste allowed us to discover supertasters, individuals who live in particularly intense taste worlds. Because of the anatomy of the taste system, supertasters feel more burn from oral irritants like chili peppers, more creaminess/ viscosity from fats and thickeners in food and may also experience more intense oral pain. Not surprisingly, these sensory differences influence food choices and thus health. A discussion of the milestones on the road to understanding genetic variation in taste must include discussion of some potholes as well. Often our failures have been as instructive as our successes in the effort to evaluate the impact of genetic variation in taste.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Perception*
  • Psychophysics
  • Taste / genetics*
  • Taste / physiology