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    If You Love Spicy Food You Just Might Love Adventure

    Written by

    Ben Richmond

    Contributing Editor

    Photo via D Sharon Pruitt/Flickr

    Well, another year and another Institute of Food Technologists conference is packing up in Chicago.

    Nadia Byrnes, a doctoral student from Penn State, presented a paper that examined the link between personality and an affection for spicy foods. Byrne had 184 participants take the Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking test. The test measures how “sensation seeking” someone is. According to the press release, "those in the group who score above the mean AISS score are considered more open to risks and new experiences, while those scoring below the mean are considered less open to those things.”

    She then stuffed ‘em full of peppers, sort of. Byrnes said in an email that they gave participants capsaicin--the active ingredient in chile peppers--in a 25 uM (micromolar) concentration. "We asked them to rate their perceived intensity of 'burning/stinging' and with this data along with liking and personality we did regression analysis.In this analysis, you get an equation that represents a relationship between the variables and we can use this to theoretically predict how our panelists would behave in certain situations" Byrnes said.

    The interesting part is that it didn’t take long for people who scored well below the mean AISS score to dislike the meal. People who scored above the mean AISS score loved it. They couldn’t get enough of the burn. People right at the mean score... they enjoyed it for a while, but eventually said enough is enough. Apparently sensation-seekers also seek to explore flavor country.

    Byrnes’s subjects were mostly Caucasian, so if you’re eager to definitely explore how personality relates to one’s culture through the lens of spicy food, you’ll have to look elsewhere. One of Byrnes's forebears, Paul Rozin, observed the eating habits of Mexican children in the 1970s and concluded that the love of hot foods is learned behavior, rooted in something he called "benign masochism." How that relates to one's culture, or if cultures that praise risk takers have spicier foods, remains to be seen.

    IFT is a nonprofit that deals with food science, which is really just runs the spectrum of sciences, they each pertain to food—spanning from economics to sports science to psychology to health care to biology.

    In spite of loving spicy foods, Byrnes is focusing in on spicy foods, rather than seeking the novelty of sour, for example, or maybe that's just the Ph.D. process. Past research she has done wondered that people who score highly on the AISS scale had desensitized themselves to the rush of spicy food through too much skydiving or if they were just insensitive to what spicy food does. 

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