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article imageScientists say spicy food lovers are also thrill seekers

By Jay McClung     Aug 12, 2013 in Food
University Park - Some like it hot, hot, hot. That phrase can be used to describe someone who enjoys hot weather or it can be used to describe someone who enjoys hot food.
While some enjoy a little spice in their food, there are others who live by the motto “The Hotter The Better.” In fact, spicy food has been shown to raise a person’s metabolism for a short period of time. Studies indicate that a spicy meal can provide a temporary rise in a person’s metabolic rate as much as 8%. Spicy food, however, is not just partnered with a person’s metabolic rate now that scientists say that hot food has a direct link to specific type of personality.
According to Professor John Hayes and PhD candidate Nadia Byrnes at Penn State University, if you’re the type of person who enjoys hot, spicy food then you’re much more of a risk-taker than someone else. Hayes and Byrnes documented that people who are more open to taking risks like spicy meals even as the food gets hotter. People who aren’t risk takers quickly stopped enjoying the foods less and less. Byrnes explains that, “Biologically, spice creates a sensation in the mouth that the brain interprets as burning or being on fire. When your body realizes there’s no real danger, it begins to interpret the sensation as a ‘thrill’ similar to gambling or riding roller coasters.”
In the Penn State study, the team examined a person’s preference for spicy food in relation to four key personality traits: private body consciousness, sensation seeking, sensitivity to punishment, and sensitivity to reward. Private body consciousness is how sensitive someone is to their own body, which can include heartbeat, hunger pangs, and muscle pain. Sensation seeking is a desire for new and intense experiences and the willingness to take risks. Sensitivity to punishment is the rate of avoidance of pain and risk. Sensitivity to reward is a strong link to pleasure and arousal. “We expected that subjects who reported liking the burn would eat more spicy foods,” reported Byrnes, “and that’s what we found.”
Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation agrees with the team’s findings. “There’s been a long-standing hypothesis that risk takers are adrenaline deficient and that they take risks to get that adrenaline and feel better,” says Dr. Hirsch. “So they’ll work with bombs or in high risk environments and then they’ll feel normal. Similarly, when you eat hot, spicy food, it gives you a little bit of pain and enhances your adrenaline level.”
As more research is conducted on the connection between spicy foods and risk takers, we can’t help but wonder if this type of data will start to influence insurance companies. Could we soon see the question, “Do you like spicy food?” right below the “Are you a smoker?” on life insurance questionnaires? Only time will tell.
More about Spicy food, thrillseekers, Cooking, Personality, Penn State University
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