BOSTON, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- When psychologists at Northeastern University offered taste testers meat samples with background stories -- where the meat came form and how it was raised -- consumers tended to prefer the meat they thought was humanely cared for and processed over samples they believed to be sourced from factory farms.
Not surprisingly, the taste testers also tended to eat more of the meat they thought looked, smelled and tasted better.
Of course, the meat samples were all identical -- deli ham and beef jerky sourced from the same processor. The findings, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest a person's beliefs can have a significant impact on sensory experiences.
Previous studies have shown imbibers tend to rate wines they believe to be expensive more highly than wines they think are cheap.
Researchers found participants in their latest study tended to give poor marks to beef jerky samples when the food was paired with a fictional description of the animal's upbringing on factory farm. Even when descriptions said nothing of animal welfare, the inclusion of the words "factory farm" was sufficient to sully the eating experience.
Participants liked the jerky samples from a "humane farm" and those without a description equally.
"We were largely hypothesizing that labeling something as raised on a humane farm would improve taste and appearance and other characteristics of the meat sample," researcher Lisa Feldman Barrett said in a news release. "But what we found instead is that explicitly labeling something as factory farmed harms the perceptual qualities of the food."
In another experiment, taste testers deemed deli ham samples from a "factory farm" to be greasier, saltier, smellier and less fresh than those from a "humane farm."
"Beliefs are really powerful. Words are really powerful," Barrett concluded. "They influence what you do, often in surprising ways."