Visual-gustatory interaction: orbitofrontal and insular cortices mediate the effect of high-calorie visual food cues on taste pleasantness

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32434. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032434. Epub 2012 Mar 14.


Vision provides a primary sensory input for food perception. It raises expectations on taste and nutritional value and drives acceptance or rejection. So far, the impact of visual food cues varying in energy content on subsequent taste integration remains unexplored. Using electrical neuroimaging, we assessed whether high- and low-calorie food cues differentially influence the brain processing and perception of a subsequent neutral electric taste. When viewing high-calorie food images, participants reported the subsequent taste to be more pleasant than when low-calorie food images preceded the identical taste. Moreover, the taste-evoked neural activity was stronger in the bilateral insula and the adjacent frontal operculum (FOP) within 100 ms after taste onset when preceded by high- versus low-calorie cues. A similar pattern evolved in the anterior cingulate (ACC) and medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) around 180 ms, as well as, in the right insula, around 360 ms. The activation differences in the OFC correlated positively with changes in taste pleasantness, a finding that is an accord with the role of the OFC in the hedonic evaluation of taste. Later activation differences in the right insula likely indicate revaluation of interoceptive taste awareness. Our findings reveal previously unknown mechanisms of cross-modal, visual-gustatory, sensory interactions underlying food evaluation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Taste Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult