Autistic traits associated with food neophobia but not olfactory sensitivity

Appetite. 2017 Sep 1;116:584-588. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.05.054. Epub 2017 Jun 3.


Food neophobia has been shown to be associated with a range of personality traits (including anxiety, lower sensation seeking) and additionally sensory aspects of food such as taste and texture. Running parallel to that work, research has demonstrated higher incidences of food neophobia in autistic populations and separately evidence of hypersensitivity in some sensory domains. The aim of the current study was to extend our understanding by exploring whether the broader aspects of autistic traits can predict food neophobia in a non-autistic population and whether this is mediated by differences in olfactory sensitivity. In the present study, student participants (N = 50) completed questionnaires measuring their food neophobia (FNS) and preferences for foreign cuisine, autistic traits (Autistic Quotient, AQ), and then completed an olfactory threshold test for a food related odour. The findings demonstrated a positive association between food neophobia and the magnitude of autistic traits and interestingly, an inverse relation between preference for foreign cuisine and olfactory sensitivity; those individuals less inclined toward foreign cuisine had poorer sensitivity to a food related odour. Since AQ was not related to olfactory sensitivity, these findings suggest the relation between autistic traits and food neophobia is unlikely to be mediated by olfactory sensitivity. More broadly however, our sense of smell is associated with experiencing a wider diet.

Keywords: Autism; Food neophobia; Odor; Olfaction.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / complications*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Diet / psychology
  • Eating / psychology
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Perception*
  • Smell
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Taste
  • Young Adult