Our sense of taste can be influenced by our other senses, with several groups having explored the effects of olfactory, visual, or tactile stimulation on what we perceive as taste. Research into multisensory, or crossmodal perception has rarely linked our sense of taste with that of audition. In our study, 48 participants in a crossover experiment sampled multiple concentrations of solutions of 5 prototypic tastants, during conditions with or without broad spectrum auditory stimulation, simulating that of airline cabin noise. Airline cabins are an unusual environment, in which food is consumed routinely under extreme noise conditions, often over 85 dB, and in which the perceived quality of food is often criticized. Participants rated the intensity of solutions representing varying concentrations of the 5 basic tastes on the general Labeled Magnitude Scale. No difference in intensity ratings was evident between the control and sound condition for salty, sour, or bitter tastes. Likewise, panelists did not perform differently during sound conditions when rating tactile, visual, or auditory stimulation, or in reaction time tests. Interestingly, sweet taste intensity was rated progressively lower, whereas the perception of umami taste was augmented during the experimental sound condition, to a progressively greater degree with increasing concentration. We postulate that this effect arises from mechanostimulation of the chorda tympani nerve, which transits directly across the tympanic membrane of the middle ear.
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