It would seem that Dr. Seuss, in his book Green Eggs and Ham, knew that food would taste better when eaten at a different location. Now, a University of Haifa study, in cooperation with the Riken Institute, shows there’s a link between the areas of the brain responsible for taste memory in a negative context and those areas in the brain responsible for processing the memory of the time and location of the sensory experience.
If the unnamed narrator in Green Eggs and Ham had tasted the dish on a train and didn’t like it, according to the new study, when he tries the meal again in the water his brain will be more ‘forgiving’ of the new attempt.
The area of the brain responsible for storing memories of new tastes is the taste cortex, found in a relatively insulated area of the human brain known as the insular cortex. The area responsible for formulating a memory of the place and time of the experience (the episode) is the hippocampus.
Until now, researchers assumed that being exposed to a bad taste would be negative in the same way anywhere, and the brain would create a memory of the taste itself, divorced from the time or place.
But in this new study, conducted by doctoral student Adaikkan Chinnakkaruppan in the laboratory of Prof. Kobi Rosenblum of the Sagol Department of Neurobiology at the University of Haifa, in cooperation with the Riken Institute, the leading brain research institute in Tokyo, the researchers demonstrate for the first time that there is a functional link between the two brain regions.
“The significance of this is that the moment we go back to the same place at which we experienced the taste associated with a bad feeling, subconsciously the negative memory will be much stronger than if we come to taste the same taste in a totally different place,” says Prof. Rosenblum.
The findings, which were recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, expose the complexity and richness of the simple sensory experiences that are engraved in our brains and that in most cases we aren’t even aware of. Moreover, the study can help explain behavioral results and the difficulty in producing memories when certain areas of the brain become dysfunctional following an illness or accident.
“Even during a simple associative taste, the brain operates the hippocampus to produce an integrated experience that includes general information about the time between events and their location,” says Prof. Rosenblum.