Thursday, June 26, 2014

Conditioned to Food?

The other day, I was walking by a small plaza when my nose was assaulted by rich, mouth watering scents. The strongest of all was the smell of greasy, cheesy pizza.  I continued on my way, but my mouth was salivating, and as I walked I started to wonder, what is it about the smell of food?  More specifically, how come the smell elicits such a response to cause my glands to salivate and my stomach to grumble?

You may think that's a weird question. I mean, it's food. When we eat, we salivate, so why not when we smell food, too?  Why question it?  Nevertheless, I had this query.  I wondered: is there something in the smell itself that causes the phantom hunger pains, or am I conditioned to the smells of the foods I come in contact with? That's right, I just delved into classical conditioning--which is when a neutral object or stimulus is paired with another object/stimulus that elicits a certain response.  Through this pairing, the response is transferred from the eliciting object to the neutral one.  The most famous example can be found anywhere on the web, so instead, I will use an example that occurred in the TV show the Office.  (Gotta keep life interesting, you know?)   Throughout the show, Jim likes to mess with Dwight with different practical jokes.  In one episode, he starts shutting down his computer and with each shut down, the computer makes the classic Windows noise.  With the noise, he turns to Dwight and offers him a candy.  He does this repetitively throughout the day until the last time when he turns off the computer and Dwight puts out his hand before Jim says anything.  Dwight was conditioned to expect candy at the sound of the computer shutting down.  

So with regard to that, my question is: If I had never eaten pizza or it's ingredients, would my body still have found the smell mouth watering?  Our nasal passageways assist with taste and so when we eat foods (like pizza) we can't help but smell them as well.  Is the smell then the conditioned stimulus and my salivation the response?  If I were to eat a meal composed entirely of dishes foreign to my culture with foreign ingredients, would the smells have any effect on my hunger?

Again, maybe to some this seems like a stupid question, but I can't help but wonder.

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