Chemesthesis and taste: evidence of independent processing of sensation intensity

Barry G Green, Marty Alvarez-Reeves, Pravin George, Carol Akirav
Physiology & Behavior 2005 November 15, 86 (4): 526-37
The ability to perceive taste from temperature alone ("thermal taste") was recently shown to predict higher perceptual responsiveness to gustatory and olfactory stimuli. This relationship was hypothesized to be due in part to individual differences in CNS processes involved in flavor perception. Here we report three experiments that tested whether subjects who differ in responsiveness to thermal taste and/or chemical taste also differ in responsiveness to oral chemesthesis. In experiment 1, subjects identified as 'thermal tasters' (TTs) or 'thermal non-tasters' (TnTs) used the general Labeled Magnitude Scale to rate the intensity of sensations produced on the tongue tip by capsaicin, menthol, sucrose, NaCl, citric acid, and QSO4. TTs rated all four taste stimuli higher than did TnTs, whereas sensations of burning/stinging/pricking and temperature from capsaicin and menthol did not differ significantly between groups. In experiment 2, testing with capsaicin on both the front and back of the tongue confirmed there was no difference in ratings of burning/stinging/pricking when subjects were grouped according to the ability to perceive thermal taste. In experiment 3, subjects were classified as high- or low-tasters according to their ratings of sucrose sweetness rather than thermal taste. No group difference was found for perception of capsaicin even when presented in mixture with sucrose or NaCl. The results are discussed in the context of previous evidence of an association between chemesthesis and sensitivity to the bitter tastant PROP, and in terms of the various peripheral and central neural processes that may underlie intensity perception in taste and chemesthesis.

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