Observations of Toddlers' sensory-based exploratory behaviors with a novel food

Appetite. 2018 Dec 1:131:108-116. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.08.035. Epub 2018 Aug 29.


Background: Food neophobia hinders the acceptance of healthy foods in young children, and may be overcome by repeated food exposure. Prevalent literature states that children exhibit five sensory-based exploratory behaviors (SBEBs): smelling, licking, spitting, manipulating and/or swallowing as they progress towards accepting a novel food, yet there is a paucity of research on these behaviors. This study aimed to use direct observations of SBEBs across first-time exposures to hummus to (1) determine the prevalence of five SBEBs (smelling, licking, spitting, manipulating and swallowing) in 12-35 month olds, (2) quantify the psychometric properties of the SBEB assessment; and (3) examine the association of SBEBs with parent-assessed food fussiness, and consumption of the novel food.

Methods: Direct observations of SBEBs during a 15-20 min snack time were conducted by trained staff members for 55 hummus-naïve toddlers ages 12-35 months, across 16 exposures to a novel food (hummus). Parents completed the child eating behavior questionnaire. Hummus consumption was measured using digital plate waste method.

Results: Very low base rates of spitting (0.06%), smelling (0.97%) and licking (1.95%) were observed but manipulation (26.36%) and swallowing (62.15%) were more prevalent. Observation data on two behaviors over 16 occasions gave rise to a reliability coefficient from our G study portion of our generalizability analyses of Eρ2 = 0.65. SBEBs did not significantly associate with parent-assessed food fussiness, nor hummus consumption.

Conclusions: Although literature refers to the prevalence of SBEBs, we did not observe this for three proposed behaviors. We did observe manipulation, but more research is needed to determine if there are additional SBEBs not noted in the literature, and to better delineate the process that leads to acceptance/rejection of novel food.

Keywords: Exploratory; Exposure; Food acceptance; Novel foods; Sensory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exploratory Behavior*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vegetables