The relative importance of thought, sight, smell, and taste of food in the cephalic phase of gastric acid secretion has not been studied systematically. We found that discussing appetizing food for 30 min (without sight, smell, or taste) increased acid secretion from 4 to 13 mmol/h in healthy human subjects (p less than 0.001) and also increased serum gastrin concentrations significantly (p less than 0.02). Discussing food resulted in an acid secretory response that averaged 66% +/- 10% of the response to modified sham feeding, which activates thought, sight, smell, and taste. Discussing topics other than food (e.g., current events, sports) did not increase acid secretion significantly. The sight of appetizing food (without smell or taste), the smell of appetizing food (without sight or taste), or the combination of sight and smell (without taste) also increased acid secretion and serum gastrin concentrations significantly. However, sight and smell were significantly less potent stimulants of acid secretion than sham feeding, with responses averaging only 23%-46% of the response to sham feeding. These studies indicate that thinking about food is a potent stimulant of gastric secretion in healthy humans. Moreover, the sight and smell of food increase gastric acid secretion and serum gastrin concentrations, probably by provoking thoughts related to food.