Science has explanations for some unusual behavior on airline flights. It turns out that lower oxygen in the cabin makes some people revert to deeper brain functions and this results in, for example, the previously unexplained crying of some passengers. In addition sustained loud noise in a jet was found to reduce the ability to taste sweets, making tomato juice and ginger ale two of the most popular drinks on flights.
In 2011, the airline Virgin Atlantic ran a survey asking customers to describe their on-flight emotional experiences. Overall, 55 percent of travelers said they had “experienced heightened emotions while flying,” and a striking 41 percent of men stated that they had “buried themselves in blankets to hide tears in their eyes from other passengers.”
The Boston Globe investigated our propensity for strange behavior on flights and found that the incapacity to regulate emotion might have a scientific explanation. Low air pressure reduces the oxygen in our blood and can affect our design-making and emotion.
Cornell researchers think that high noise levels lower our ability to taste sweet things and draw us to other flavors. One of those flavors is umami, a savory taste category sated by tomatoes.
The fact that sound levels change taste perception was publicized in 2015 by Time magazine:
Loud noises can change the way we perceive how our food tastes, according to new research.
In the study, published in theJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, researchers had 48 men and women try liquid solutions of five different tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami at different concentrations. There was a catch, however. The men and women tried them in either a room either normal ambient noise, or one with simulated loud airplane cabin noise.
Interestingly, the study authors found no significant differences in how the people rated the salty, sour or bitter tastes. But they found that in the loud noise environment, sweet taste intensity was rated as lower and umami taste was rated as more pronounced.
The article explains that sounds are important to our perception of foods in several ways.
More bubbles popping louder and faster make carbonated beverages better and the sound of a crisp apple or bacon makes these foods seem to taste better.
Another interesting effect, something you can use at home, is that music of a particular region can make a meal taste more authentic. Next time you have pasta, try playing some Italian opera softly in the background.