Bad Taste in Mouth

A relatively recent study was conducted which shows a statistically significant correlation between moral judgements and taste perception. In "A Bad Taste in the Mouth: Gustatory Disgust Influences Moral Judgment" by Eskine, Kacinik, and Prinz it was discovered that sweet tasting substances trigger kind and favorable judgements about other people. Alternatively, individuals who were subjected to bitter tastes had a tendency to respond in a manner that displays moral disgust.

The effects of this studies findings reach very deeply into the core of our society. I often reference this study in passing conversation, as it is very amusing, partially hilarious, and all too serious of a finding that deserves our respect and should be taken seriously. Past scientific research has provided evidence that physical disgust is heavily related to moral disgust. This specific study runs with that baton and examines a specific physiological experience: the sensation and perception of taste. The question this article raises for me on a philosophical level is as follows: if morality can depend on such a small thing like our taste perception, then how can we ever reasonably come to a conclusion regarding what our moral code "really" is?

It would seem that our opinions on morality vary from day to day, and even from one moment to the next dependent on other variables, whether physiological or psychological. As should be evident, the experience of taste is both a physiological experience (which is for all intent and purpose a relatively "objective" experience in that anyone can directly observe our physical experience) and a psychological experience (which is much more subjective, as the nature of our cognitive system is one that is only observable in specific ways, like through an x-ray machine).

Returning to my prior point: if morality is so hingent on relatively meaningless things (as far as morality itself is concerned), then can we truly every have an "absolute" morality? While I do not believe there is evidence to support the notion that simple physiological or psychological changes cause a major overhaul to our overall way of perceiving the world and considering moral matters, there is reason to believe that given certain contexts and conditional stimuli; moral perception is prone to adapt to the scenario and we then make our best decisions as to what we should do and how we should treat people (among other things) given the specific data we receive as a result of each individual encounter.

To quote the author's of this study in their Discussion:

These findings open up a host of practical questions. For example, should jurors avoid overly bitter or sweet foods as they deliberate a verdict? Could political attitudes and orientations be moderated by particular diets? And do food preferences partly shape moral development?

As John Ruskin noted in Meynell:

“Taste is not only a part and index of morality, it is the only morality. The first, and last, and closest trial question to any living creature is ‘What do you like?’ Tell me what you like, I’ll tell you what you are. ”

I expect that scientific findings like the ones made evident in this study will revolutionize how we discuss moral theory in the future. We often perceive morality as this intangible and abstract concept which can only be considered through philosophy and logic. This is apparently very far from the truth.

If you have any thoughts on the topic of morality and physiology (among other things), feel free to sound off in the comments section below!