Autonomic nervous system responses associated with primary tastes

Chem Senses. 2000 Dec;25(6):709-18. doi: 10.1093/chemse/25.6.709.


The hedonic dimension of the taste sensation plays a crucial role in the control of many taste-mediated responses related to food ingestion or rejection. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the emotional reactivity associated with each primary taste (sweet, salty, sour and bitter) through analysis of the variations of autonomic nervous system (ANS) parameters. Thirty-four healthy non-smoker volunteer subjects (17 males and 17 females, mean age = 28 years) participated in the experiment. Taste stimuli were solutions of 0.3 M sucrose (sweet), 0.15 M NaCl (salty), 0.02 M citric acid (sour) and 0.00015 M quinine sulfate (bitter). Evian mineral water was used as the diluent and control (neutral taste). Throughout the test, five ANS parameters (skin potential and skin resistance, skin blood flow and skin temperature, and instantaneous heart rate) were simultaneously and continuously recorded. Results of the ANOVA evidenced a significant effect of primary taste on skin resistance amplitude (P: < 0.001) and duration (P: < 0.0001), skin temperature amplitude (P: < 0.001), skin blood flow amplitude (vasoconstriction) (P: < 0.0001) and instantaneous heart rate increase (P: < 0.0001). Skin resistance and cardiac responses were the most relevant ANS parameters to distinguish among the taste solutions. The four primary tastes could be associated with significantly different ANS responses in relation to their hedonic valence: the pleasantly connoted and innate-accepted sweet taste induced the weakest ANS responses whereas the unpleasant connoted tastes (salty, sour and bitter) induced stronger ANS responses, the innate-rejected bitter taste inducing the strongest ones. Such a neurovegetative characterization of each primary taste could provide references for the hedonic analysis of the more complex gustative sensation attached to foods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Citric Acid
  • Electric Impedance
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quinine
  • Skin / blood supply
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Skin Temperature
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Sucrose
  • Taste / physiology*


  • Citric Acid
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Sucrose
  • Quinine