The John B Pierce Laboratory and Yale University
When we “taste”, we also touch the food or drink in our mouths and sense its odor via retronasal olfaction. The term flavor describes this multimodal experience. The aim of this lecture will be to describe how the independent sensations of taste, touch and smell converge to create unitary flavor percepts and how, through experience, the brain encodes these “flavor objects” and their associated physiological significance to guide eating behaviors. Psychophysical and neuroimaging data will be presented to support the existence of a binding mechanism, possibly residing in the somatomotor mouth area, that underlies illusory processes that bring taste, touch and smell into a common spatial receptive field to facilitate integration. It is argued that activation of these illusory mechanisms result in flavor perceptions and in the encoding of these independent sensory inputs as flavor objects within insular cortex. These flavor objects are then associated with the post-ingestive consequences of feeding to result in flavor preference formation.