Sounds Healthy: Auditory influences on the psychophysiological mechanisms of food-related decision-making

Danni Peng-Li

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis


Making a food choice seems simple. However, a myriad of underlying mechanisms—from interoceptive bodily states to exteroceptive environmental cues—affects this choice. Our brain’s decision-making circuitry is constantly processing internal physiological feedback and external multisensory inputs in order to make the most optimal decision. Especially contextual influences of auditory stimuli on food choice and consumer behavior have attracted much attention in the past decade in the sensory science community. It has been experimentally demonstrated in both research and commercial contexts that it is possible to nudge consumers’ food-seeking behaviors through simple modulations in background music and soundscapes. Yet, consensual clarity on the mechanistic level is lacking in the literature and thus it remains unclear how exactly this occurs. This PhD project builds upon this reported phenomenon with the aim to uncover how ambient sounds can influence the underlying drivers of food-related decision-making. This is assessed through three thematic phases, each investigating a specific psychophysiological construct related to the effect of audition on decision – visual attention (Phase I), reward valuation (Phase II), and emotion & cognition (Phase III). In light of the conventional subjective and explicit methods commonly relied on in sensory and consumer research, the overall methodology of the experiments in this project is centered around objective and implicit measures. Phase I utilizes eye-tracking technology to accurately quantify visual attention towards various types of food in Danish and Chinese populations. The included studies expand the view of crossmodal correspondences, musical fit, and semantic priming mechanisms by studying the influence of taste-congruent (Paper I), ethnically congruent (Paper II), and health-congruent (Paper III) soundtracks on visual attention and food choice. Phase II adapts a behavioral paradigm to implicitly and explicitly disentangle distinct measures of food reward. Here, two environmental soundscapes associated with relaxation and stressfulness are incorporated in the paradigm to examine their effects on various food reward metrics (Paper IV). Phase III explores the combined impact of cognitive self-regulation and exteroceptive ambient noise volume on the emotional and cognitive correlates of food cravings through the employment of electrodermal activity and electroencephalography as neurophysiological measures of emotional arousal and cognitive load (Paper V). The findings of Phase I established a direct link between various soundtracks and visual attention to specific foods and demonstrated the applicability in culturally different consumer segments. In particular, fixation time spent, fixation duration, fixation count, and revisit count were significant outcome variables of interest all of which were guided by the soundtracks or musical excerpts. The results from Phase II likewise suggested that environmental soundscapes can affect certain explicit and implicit measures of food reward. While sounds of nature increased food liking, the presence of background noise decreased response times of food wanting. Finally, the result from Phase III revealed that loud background noise, particularly in combination with prospective thinking of food cravings, led to increased cognitive load and emotional arousal. In fact, alpha activity in the frontal cortex served as a statically significant mediator between noise level and subjective food cravings. The outcomes of the three thematic phases and accompanied state-of-the-art objective methods partake in multiple theoretical as well as practical implications and overall highlight the importance of appropriate employment of auditory cues in human behavior and food research. Altogether, the PhD project has contributed to technological advances in the field of sensory and consumer science and provided a better understanding of the instrumentalization of psychophysiological measures of food-related decision-making processes. It is proposed that future studies ought to implement implicit measures on a more regular basis for providing robust objective evidence complementary to traditional subjective tools.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherÅrhus Universitet
Number of pages176
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


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