No birthday is complete without the cake ritual, including off-key singing, making a birthday wish while blowing out candles, and the ceremonial cutting of the birthday cake. Research from the Association of Psychological Sciences suggests that this ritual not only makes the experience more memorable, but might also improve the taste of the cake.
The study shows that the rituals we perform before eating, even the small ones, can actually change our perception of the food we eat. Psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota wondered about the power of rituals after noticing her own ritual before drinking coffee. “Whenever I order an espresso, I take a sugar packet and shake it, open the packet and pour a teeny bit of sugar in, and then taste,” Vohs observes. “It’s never enough sugar, so I then pour about half of the packet in. The thing is, this isn’t a functional ritual, I should just skip right to pouring in half the packet.”
Vohs and colleagues conducted experiments to investigate how ritualistic behaviours might influence our perception and consumption of various foods. The results showed that those who performed a “ritual” rated the food more highly and savoured it more, suggesting that a short, fabricated ritual can produce real effects.
The data also revealed that a longer delay between ritual and consumption bolstered these effects, even with a neutral food like carrots; the anticipation of eating carrots following a ritual actually improved their subjective taste.