Why Do Sandwiches Taste Better When Someone Else Makes Them?

Deli sandwichEver notice that food tastes better when someone else makes it for you?

In the fourth annual Food and Drink issue of the NY Times magazine, noted psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains:

When you make your own sandwich, you anticipate its taste as you’re working on it. And when you think of a particular food for a while, you become less hungry for it later. It’s a kind of specific satiation, just as most people find room for dessert when they couldn’t have another bite of their steak. The sandwich that another person prepares is not “preconsumed” in the same way.

At first blush, this explanation seems counter-intuitive. Studies have shown that picturing yourself eating a food you enjoy (perhaps chocolate) induces an increase in saliva and the desire to eat it.  Similarly, imagining the smell of a cigarette increases cravings in smokers.  So why doesn’t making a sandwich improve the taste?

Carnegie Mellon University researchers believe the answer lies in the fact that extended exposure to a stimulus (the sandwich) decreases the physiological and behavioral responses (wanting to eat it). In other words, seeing the sandwich get made over time makes it feel less novel and thus less desirable.  A similar phenomena works with repeated exposure to the same food: a fifth bite of chocolate is less desirable than the first.

In a series of five experiments, the CMU researchers showed the more often people imagined eating a food, the less likely they were to eat it later.  In addition, people who repeatedly imagined eating a specific food ate less of that food than people who repeatedly imagined eating a different food. According to the research, they ate less because they felt less hungry, not because they thought the food was less appetizing.

This is an extraordinary compelling idea. We will likely eat less if we make our own food and imagine eating it several times beforehand. Maybe we could call it the Daydream Diet.

Satisfy your craving: follow me on twitter (@jbecher)

6 Responses to Why Do Sandwiches Taste Better When Someone Else Makes Them?

  1. Either that or the ”Imaginary Diet”…as most of the diets people try end up delivering imaginary results 😉

  2. Tom Hoobler says:

    Love it! Seems like a compelling concept that can be applied in lots of different ways. For example: Service. The more we do things for ourselves the less likely we are to enjoy it. For important matters–financials, mortgage, etc–this can actually have an adverse effect. Having someone you can trust create the perfect financial or mortgage “sandwich” may be a great way to financially “bulk up”!

  3. Jonathan,

    This is really interesting as a management challenge: how do you measure the validity and passion for your own ideas compared to someone else’s? Do we make bad decisions because we’re more interested in a novel idea than an old idea that we have had repeated exposure to? In our world, these decisions have much more at stake than a simple taste; they can affect the ongoing roadmaps of companies for years to come. This bias of extended exposure is a powerful idea for strategic decision making and could be a set of interesting blog posts on its own:

    The Art of Guiding Customer Preconsumption
    Overcoming Preconsumption Bias
    Evaluating Novelty without Bias
    From Desire to Purchase: The Tricky Road of Repeated Exposure
    Satiating Customer Hunger Before the Sale

    This also helps put content and influencer marketing in perspective; certain approaches will provide visibility, but may satiate interest too quickly. To maximize demand, sequencing and novelty have to come into play to drive the personal agenda technology purchasing.

  4. Hannes Kuehnemund says:

    “A similar phenomena works with repeated exposure to the same food: a fifth bite of chocolate is less desirable than the first.”

    If I remember correctly, then this has been formulated in 1854 by Heinrich Gossen – if the first of his laws. Shouldn’t be too surprising nowadays 😉

  5. P says:

    What a fantastic piece of literature you have given us, thank you. Isn’t it interesting though, how the length of time spent daydreaming about a left-over piece of cake in the fridge is directly proportional to the anger you feel when you finally get home and find the cake has been eaten by another member of the family? So the next time I ‘steal’ that last slice, I will simply respond
    – “But you weren’t going to enjoy it that much anyway.”

  6. Annie Hayward says:

    So this is why health & fitness experts always advocate cooking & eating at home. Besides being able to control all the ingredients, the mystique of what the end product might taste like also disappears. Makes sense 🙂

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