Affective and cognitive drivers of food choice

S. Gutjar

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU




In sensory science liking ratings are commonly used to understand and predict food intake and choice. And indeed, higher liked products are more often chosen than lower liked products. However, there is more to food choice than sensory liking per se, as many highly liked products fail on the market. A broader perspective on how consumers experience a food product is needed, where we take into account that individuals experience and attach emotions and cognitive associations to foods. Measuring these, in addition to liking, might explain and predict food choice better.


The aim of this thesis was to test if food-evoked emotional and cognitive associations explain and predict food choice better than sensory liking per se. Hereby we focused on the sensory and packaging product properties. In addition, we investigated the link between sensory properties and emotional responses to foods; and the influence of the context appropriateness on choice.


We conducted a series of product profiling experiments of test products (breakfast drinks) with regular consumers. Participants rated emotional responses and liking to a set of tasted test products, and subsequently, after an interval of one week, participants’ actual choice was observed, after again tasting the series of product samples (presented blind) to choose from. In the following study we took the same measures, but now included the products packaging. Thus, participants rated emotional responses also to the product’s package and they chose one product after viewing the packages of all test products (without tasting). Two dessert products were included in the product set to assess the impact of eating occasion appropriateness. The test products were also evaluated by a trained panel on sensory characteristics using descriptive analysis. In the last study, we assessed cognitive terms (emotional and functional words) participants associate with sensory attributes and the products’ package. And, participants rated liking and chose, after an interval of one week, a product based on the products’ packages.


The measured emotional responses could be decomposed in two dimensions, i.e. valence (pleasant to unpleasant) vs. arousal (calm to excitement). The combination of emotion valence and liking scores predicted individual choice based on the products taste for over 50% of all participants and was a better predictor of choice than liking scores alone. The combination of liking, valence and also arousal resulted in the best prediction for package-based choice with correct predicted individual choices for 41% of all participants. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the match, between the cognitive associations to the products sensory and packaging cues, was positively related to choice. However, liking ratings outperformed the product-package-match in predicting individual product choice. In particular, expected liking (based on the product’s package) predicted 25% more individual choices correct than the product-package-match. Furthermore, we demonstrated that a product was more likely to be chosen when the package provided context appropriate information (i.e. breakfast context for breakfast drinks). Lastly, we found that texture-related attributes were drivers of positive emotions and that specific taste-related attributes were drivers of specific arousal emotions.


Emotional and cognitive responses to foods are relevant drivers of choice behaviour. Food-evoked emotional responses predicted choice consistently better than liking scores alone. However, the combination of liking scores and emotions was the best predictor of food choice based on the product’s taste and packaging. Hence, emotions may explain and guide consumers’ choice behaviour. Furthermore, product profiles, based on cognitive product associations, seem to be related to choice behaviour; but it is still unclear what their contribution is in predicting choice based on liking per se.

In addition, it was shown that appropriateness also influences package-based choice. Lastly, links between sensory and emotional profiling were identified which offer a possible application of the findings on food-evoked emotions in product development.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • de Graaf, Kees, Promotor
  • Jager, Gerry, Co-promotor
Award date4 Sept 2015
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462574380
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sept 2015


  • food preferences
  • choice behaviour
  • consumer preferences
  • emotions
  • sensory sciences
  • packaging


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