Behavioral measures of risk tasking, sensation seeking and sensitivity to reward may reflect different motivations for spicy food liking and consumption

Appetite. 2016 Aug 1;103:411-422. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.04.037. Epub 2016 Apr 29.


Based on work a quarter century ago, it is widely accepted personality traits like sensation seeking are related to the enjoyment and intake of spicy foods; however, data supporting this belief is actually quite limited. Recently, we reported strong to moderate correlations between remembered spicy food liking and two personality traits measured with validated questionnaires. Here, participants consumed capsaicin-containing strawberry jelly to generate acute estimates of spicy food liking. Additionally, we used a laboratory-based behavioral measure of risk taking (the mobile Balloon Analogue Risk Task; mBART) to complement a range of validated self-report measures of risk-related personality traits. Present data confirm Sensation Seeking correlates with overall spicy meal liking and liking of the burn of a spicy meal, and extends prior findings by showing novel correlations with the liking of sampled stimuli. Other personality measures, including Sensitivity to Punishment (SP), Sensitivity to Reward (SR), and the Impulsivity and Risk Taking subscales of the DSM5 Personality Inventory (PID-5) did not show significant relationships with liking of spicy foods, either sampled or remembered. Our behavioral risk taking measure, the mBART, also failed to show a relationship with remembered or sampled liking. However, significant relationships were observed between reported intake of spicy foods and Sensitivity to Reward, and the Risk Taking subscale of the PID-5 (PID5-RT). Based on the observed patterns among various personality measures, and spicy food liking and intake, we propose that personality measures may exert their influence on intake of spicy food via different mechanisms. We also speculate that Sensation Seeking may reflect motivations for consuming spicy foods that are more intrinsic, while the motivations for eating spicy foods measured by SR and PID5-RT may be more extrinsic.

Keywords: BART; Capsaicin; PID5; Sensation seeking; Sensitivity to reward; Spicy food.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Capsaicin / administration & dosage
  • Cohort Studies
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Ethnicity
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiology
  • Isothiocyanates / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Mustard Plant
  • Personality
  • Plant Oils / administration & dosage
  • Reward
  • Risk
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Self Report
  • Sensation*
  • Spices*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Isothiocyanates
  • Plant Oils
  • 2,3,4-tri-O-acetylarabinopyranosyl isothiocyanate
  • Capsaicin
  • mustard oil