Does Color Conditioning Affect Taste Perception

Researched by Emma B.


The purpose of this experiment is to determine whether color conditioning affected taste perception of seventh grade students.

I became interested in this idea when I was researching on the computer encyclopedia and "psychological conditioning" showed up. I read about it and became interested in it. I decided to do a science project about it. I also wanted to know if students had been conditioned to expect certain colors to be certain flavors. I also wanted to know if I removed the color, would students still be able to accurately name the flavor.

The information gained from this experiment will benefit juice and other food manufacturers when they have to choose what color to color their flavors with. It also points out to parents and adults how children are learning to perceive color and taste from an early age.

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My hypothesis is that seventh grade students will be able to identify the flavor faster and more accurately when the soda has color in it compared to the soda with no color.

I base my hypothesis on observations on my family and what they say, before they drink the juice, 'This is Grape, isn't it?" when offered a purple colored drink. I also drank a clear Italian Soda and had difficulty finding out what flavor it was compared to ed sodas.

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Experiment Design

The constants of this study were:

  • The number of students
  • The amount of juice given to each student
  • The different colors and flavors in each group of colors and flavors
  • The same phrases were used for each student
The manipulated variable was the different color in each cup of soda.

The responding variable was the amount of time it took for each student to identify the flavor. This indicated whether color effects the ability to identify the flavor faster.

To measure the responding variable, I timed each student with a stopwatch to see how long it takes for each student identify the flavor.

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8 Bottles of clear one liter sugar free, sodium free, caffeine free flavored soda flavored: lime, tangerine, cherry, and grape
4 liquid vegetable food colorings colored: green, blue, red, and yellow
100 clear disposable Dixie cups
8 medicine cups
30 seventh grade students
1 stopwatch

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1. Gather materials
2. In one of the liter bottles of clear lime soda, put six drops of liquid green food coloring. Leave the other bottle of lime soda clear.
3. In one of the liter bottles of clear cherry soda, put 20 drops of liquid red food coloring. Leave the other bottle of cherry soda clear.
4. In one of the liter bottles of clear tangerine soda, put six drops of liquid yellow food coloring and three drops of liquid red food coloring. This should make orange.
5. In one of the liter bottles of clear grape soda, put six drops of liquid red food coloring and three drops of liquid blue food coloring. 
6. Label the clear lime soda "A". For the colored one, label it "B".
7. Label the clear cherry soda "C". For the colored one, label it "D".
8. Label the clear tangerine soda "E". For the colored one. label it "F".
9. Label the clear grape soda "G". For the colored one, label it "H".
10. Make sure the soda labels are off the bottles when serving the student.
11. Gather one student, who has a permission slip signed and turned in, and take them somewhere where it is quiet and can cooperate, such as the Team 7 Science Lab.
12. In one of the medicine cups, fill with clear grape soda. Pour into clear disposable Dixie cup.
13. GIve Dixie cup to student. BE SURE NOT TO give hints with facial expressions or body gestures about the accuracy of the student's answer or the flavor of the sodas.
14. Once the student puts the soda in their mouth, start the time on the stopwatch and stop when the student identifies and says the flavor of the soda.
15. Give he sodas in this order: HEDAFGBC
16. Provide each student with a Dixie cup full of sterile drinking water to rinse his or her mouth out or a napkin in-between each taste trial. It is okay if a student says "orange" for "tangerine".
17. Repeat #11-#16 for each student and flavor or color of the soda.
18. Record the answers on a separate piece of paper for each student. Find the averages of all the times of the students and the number of students that got the answer right. 

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The original purpose of this experiment was to determine if color-condtioning affects taste perception of seventh grade students.

The results of this experiment were that seventh graders were faster in time and gave more accurate answers when the soda had coloring in it compared to the soda without coloring.

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My hypothesis was that seventh grade students would be able to identify the flavor faster and more accurately when the soda had color in it compared to the soda without color.

The results indicate that this hypothesis should be accepted because seventh graders were faster in time and gave more accurate answers when the soda had color in it compared to the soda with no color. Therefore, we could say that seventh graders, when presented with a flavored soda that is colored its "expected" color, have been "conditioned" to believe orange will be orange. WHen the color is gone, they do not share this conditioned information and it is more difficult for them to perceive the taste quickly and accurately.

Because of the results of this experiment, I wonder if younger or older people would have different results. I wonder if boys or girls will have a faster and accurate answer. I also question how many other things in life we have been conditioned to believe or expect.

If I were to conduct this project again, I would try to do my experiment a little faster. I would get as many people done as I can during the times I can do my science experiment. I would try to get more people to take part in the study.

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     This is a research report about conditioning, perception, and taste. Conditioning is a type of learning that happens when a stimulus is paired with a reward or reinforcement. When the stimulus and reward is presented numerous times, a person starts to expect that same result whenever that particular stimulus is present. Perception skills give our brain added information and so does our sensory systems such as taste. We use all of this learning to make sense out of our lives.

Operant Conditioning

     Operant conditioning is defined as a type of training or learning in which certain behaviors or activities are reinforced or rewarded. This happens in one's environment. For example, a child that whines for candy and gets some, can over time, learn to whine whenever he wants candy. Most behaviorist explain most everyday learning in terms of operant conditioning. The main difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning if that classical conditioning applies on reflexes, while operant conditioning (a.k.a instrumental conditioning) applies to what is usually called voluntary behavior.
     The occurrence of operant behavior is influenced by events in the environment. Any condition that makes learning occur is said to reinforce, or reward, the learning.

Classical Conditioning

     A type of experimental learning in which two stimuli are used at the same time to get a response. After time, only one of the stimulus can lead to the behavior. Classical conditioning is based on stimulus- response relationships. A stimulus usually makes a person respond in a certain way. Psychologists say that in this instance, the stimulus draws forth the response.
     In classical conditioning, learning occurs when a new stimulus begins to elicit, or draw forth, behavior similar to that originally produced by an old stimulus
     The classical conditioning process is particularly important in understanding how people learn emotion behavior. When we develop a new fear, for example, we learn to fear a stimulus that has been combined with some other frightening stimulus. For another example, if someone were to clap and scream "spider!" to make a person jump, the person, over time, may begin jump with just a clap even when no one screams "spider!"
     Studies of classical conditioning are based on experiments in the early 1900's by the Russian physiologist, Ivan P. Pavlov. He called a learned response a conditioned response because it depended on the conditions of the stimulus.

Burrhus Frederic (B.F.) Skinner

     Burrhus Frederic (1904-1990) studied and majored in literature at the Hamilton College in New York. He went and lived in New York City in the late 1920's to become a writer. He was not very successful. "I had nothing important to say," he later explained. So he decided to go back to school, and went to Harvard to study psychology, since he had always enjoyed observing animal and human behavior. The psychology department was immersed in introspective psychology, and Skinner found himself more and more a behaviorist. He worked in a lab of an experimental biologist, and developed behavioral studies of rats. He loved to experiment with building, and loved building contraptions as a kid. He put that skill to use by designing boxes to automatically reward behavior, such as a depressing lever, pushing a button, and much more. His devices were such an improvement on the existing equipment; they've come to be known as the Skinner boxes. He conducted many experiments using conditioning.

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov

     Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born in Ryazan, Russia. He was educated in Russia and Germany. He became a Russian physiologist. He won the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for his research on digestion. He showed how the vagus nerve controls the flow of digestive juices of the stomach and pancreas. For the next thirty years, Pavlov studied brain functions. He found that, by repeated association, an artificial stimulus could be substituted for a natural stimulus to cause physiological reaction. This, as he called it, is a conditioned reflex. Pavlov believed that all acquired habits, and even higher mental activity, depend on the chains of conditioned reflexes.


     The process of perception does not reveal objects and events of the world. People see light and color, but there is no light  and color in waves that stimulate the eye. In the same way, there is no music or noise in the vibrations that stimulate the ear.
     Perception has three levels of complexity. They are: detection, recognition, and discrimination. Detection refers to whether people can sense that they are being stimulated by some form of energy. Recognition means being able to identify as well as detect a particular pattern of stimulation. Discrimination means being able to perceive patterns of stimulation as different


     Taste is an important sense in people and most animals. The taste of foods helps determine what and how much people eat. The sense of flavor is affected by how things smell. When people have a cold, or a stuffy nose, food may taste alike. Food must be moist or containing fats to be tasted. 
     Most people believe that there are four kinds of taste - salt, sour, bitter, and sweet. The cells that make up the taste buds do not have structural or functional differences that correspond to these tastes or flavors. The idea of the four tastes seem to be something that is learned. These taste categories may only be easily distinguished characteristics for taste..
     Taste buds are grouped on the tongue into small mounds called papillae. Each taste bud contains a number of receptor cells. The papillae of the front of the tongue have have their receptor cells connected to one nerve. The papillae on the edges of the tongue, about halfway between the front and back, and those at the back of the tongue are connected to a second nerve. People also have taste buds on the soft palate, witch is the back of the roof of the mouth.
     When people take food into their mouths, the exposed ends of the taste bud receptor cells contact molecules from the food. The receptor cells transmit information about the chemicals in the food to nerves. Different taste nerves may respond differently to the same chemicals. Also, small amounts of some chemicals are more easily tasted on the back or sides of the tongue.
     The nerves from the taste buds come together sat back part of the brain stem. The receptor cells in the taste buds are continually being replaced. These cells develop only from skin cells that surround the taste buds.


     People respond and learn from events and/or stimulus in their environment. Psychologists have studied this learning and have tried to figure out how and why people respond and learn the way they do. B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov are two psychologists that studied these behaviors, and called it conditioning. People also get information from their perceptions and sensory systems. When learning and responding to different tastes, a person could use their taste buds, their perception skills, and conditioning.

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Arnheim, Rudolf, et al., Psychology Today, Del Mar, California, CRM Books, 1972

Chance, Paul, Learning and Behavior, Belmont, California, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1988

"Conditioning," Encarta Encyclopedia, 1999

Davis, Audrey B., "Ivan Petrovich Pavlov," The World Book Encyclopedia, vol. 15, 1999

Halpern, Bruce P., "Taste," The World Book Encyclopedia, 1999

Horowitz, Leonard M., "Learning," The World Book Encyclopedia, 1999

"Taste," Encarta Encyclopedia, 1999

Weyant, Robert G., "B.F. Skinner," The World Book Encyclopedia, 1999


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