Mental simulation across sensory modalities predicts attractiveness of food concepts.
Speed LJ., Papies EK., Majid A.
Concepts are grounded in mental simulation of sensory information, but the exact role it plays in everyday cognition is unknown. Here, we investigate its role in an important conceptual domain relevant for everyday behavior-food. We conducted two preregistered studies to test whether multimodal mental simulation is linked to attractiveness of food concepts. In Study 1, using the Lancaster Sensorimotor norms for a variety of concepts, we found unhealthy food concepts are more strongly associated with gustation, olfaction, and interoception than healthy food concepts. Importantly, these associations mediated the relationship between food healthiness and food attractiveness. In Study 2, we collected new sensory ratings with food words only and found unhealthy food concepts were more strongly associated with all perceptual modalities than healthy food concepts. Again, these associations mediated the relationship between healthiness and attractiveness. The mediating role of sensory associations to food attractiveness was also affected by context. Specifically, when participants thought about food in an eating context cued by verbal instruction, mediation by perceptual strength was weaker. Overall, we find multimodal sensory experience underlies people's belief that unhealthy food is more attractive than healthy food. This suggests mental simulation has an important role in goal-directed behavior. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).