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Don't sweat the sweet stuff

Study shows how the human brain detects, identifies, and acts on taste

Society for Neuroscience

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IMAGE: A) Signal strength quantified as the average global field power computed within-subjects as the standard deviation of the event-related potentials over 64 electrodes for each of the tastants and water... view more 

Credit: Wallroth & Ohla Fig. 2, eNeuro (2018)

Sweet and bitter flavors are identified as soon as they are tasted, according to human neural and behavioral data published in eNeuro. The study provides new insight into how the brain rapidly detects and discriminates between potentially nutritious and toxic substances.

The sense of taste, similar to that of smell, guides an organism toward stimuli that promote survival and away from stimuli that threaten it. This behavior requires detecting, identifying, and deciding to act on gustatory information.

Kathrin Ohla and Raphael Wallroth explored how this process unfolds in human adults as they detected one of four solutions -- salty, sour, bitter, and sweet -- and discriminated between salty versus sour and sweet versus bitter. The researchers found strong correspondence between participants' reaction times and their brains' electrical activity during these tasks, suggesting that these computations take early in the taste-processing pathway. Salty and sour were more quickly detected than they were identified whereas virtually no lag between detection and discrimination was observed for sweet and bitter. As participants rated sweet and bitter tastes as more and less pleasant, respectively, and salty and sour tastes as neutral, this additional information may have facilitated the differences in processing speed.

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Article: As soon as you taste it - evidence for sequential and parallel processing of gustatory information
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/ENEURO.0269-18.2018
Corresponding author: Kathrin Ohla (Research Center Jülich, Germany), k.ohla@fz-juelich.de

About eNeuro

eNeuro, the Society for Neuroscience's open-access journal launched in 2014, publishes rigorous neuroscience research with double-blind peer review that masks the identity of both the authors and reviewers, minimizing the potential for implicit biases. eNeuro is distinguished by a broader scope and balanced perspective achieved by publishing negative results, failure to replicate or replication studies. New research, computational neuroscience, theories and methods are also published.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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