Hot or not? Conveying sensory information on food packaging through the spiciness-shape correspondence

Ignacio Gil-Pérez*, Rubén Rebollar, Iván Lidón, Javier Martín, Hans C.M. van Trijp, Betina Piqueras-Fiszman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The packaging of a product is a key element in the communication between producers and consumers, so getting the consumer to interpret the packaging visual signs in the desired way is crucial to be successful in the marketplace. However, this is not easy as images can be ambiguous and may be interpreted in different ways. For example, depicting an icon of fire on the front of a bag of nuts may lead the consumer to interpret either that the nuts are spicy or that the nuts have been roasted. This paper addresses this problem and, using this case as an example, assesses if the interpretation of a fire icon (spicy vs roasted) can be modulated by manipulating its shape (angular vs rounded). 66 participants carried out an experiment which results show that there is a crossmodal correspondence between spiciness and pointy shapes and that this association can be used to modulate sensory expectations: in a speeded classification task, the bags of nuts depicting pointy fire icons were categorised more quickly as being spicy than as being roasted, while the opposite was true for the bags of nuts displaying rounded fire icons. In addition, the results of a mediation analysis suggest that this effect occurs indirectly through affective appraisal: the pointy fire icons were judged as being more aggressive than the rounded fire icons, which in turn raised spiciness expectations. These findings contribute to the research on crossmodal correspondences and semiotics by showing that the association between spiciness and abstract shapes can be used to modulate how people interpret an ambiguous image.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-208
JournalFood Quality and Preference
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Categorisation
  • Expectations
  • Implicit measures
  • Packaging design
  • Semiotics


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