Examining what we eat through social neuroscience

Students eating on campus

Ever wonder why you overeat? Crave (or hate) a certain food? Ask for extra Sriracha sauce while your friend orders theirs extra mild? It has to do with your brain, and how it processes the information received by your senses.

In Professor Peter Hall’s upper-year course, Social Neurobiology of Eating, Health Sciences students use social neuroscience — which helps us understand the role of the brain in social processes and behaviours — to examine eating. In-class discussions include sensory processing of flavour, attention and environmental food cues, and evolved taste preferences — to name a few. Students also learn about the methods used in social neuroscience research.

In this class, we explore brain processes involved in the total flavour experience, which includes taste and texture of the food, but also the appearance and smell as well.

Professor PETER Hall

Professor Hall cooking pancakes in his lab with a small group of students from his class. 

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All this talk is making me hungry

Some might argue that the sweetest part of the course is the lab demonstration. With small groups of students, Professor Hall makes and serves pancakes using a 10-ingredient recipe. But this isn’t your typical pancake breakfast — each step in the demonstration has a purpose.

First, he introduces and explains the reason for each of the 10 ingredients. Next, he demonstrates the preparation techniques and maps that to the flavour experience. Finally, students get to enjoy and evaluate the finished product.

Professor Hall pouring maple syrup onto a plate of pancakes for one of the students.

The lab demonstration is designed to maximize the total flavour experience through each of the senses and thereby 'supercharge' evaluative processing in the brain.

Professor Hall

More than pancakes

To help students further explore flavour processing in the brain, Professor Hall also shares a series of online recipe preparation videos. Students can watch for ingredient and preparation features that maximize the flavour experience and pick up a few cooking tips at the same time.

Check out this first video for giant shells with spinach and ricotta. You can see the playlist for the full process.



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