Nicola Twilley on Charles Spence, a scientist studying how the four other senses alter our perception of taste.
Sitting in a pub one night a dozen years ago, Charles Spence realized that he was in the presence of the ideal experimental model: the Pringles potato chip.
Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, runs the Crossmodal Research Lab there, which studies how the brain integrates information from the five human senses to produce a coherent impression of reality.
Very often, these modes of perception influence one another on the way to becoming conscious thought. For instance, scientists have long known that whether a strawberry tastes sweet or bland depends in no small part on the kinds of organic molecule detected by olfactory receptors in the nose.
Spence had been wondering whether taste might be similarly shaped by sound: Would a potato chip taste different if the sound of its crunch was altered?
To explore that question, he needed a chip with a reliably uniform crunch. The Pringle—that thin, homogeneous, stackable paraboloid—was perfect.