Monday, 29 September 2014

Crossmodal sensory perception

In a recent post I wrote about a beer tasting session with Pete Brown at the Green Man Festival, in which he talked about how the music we hear may influence our perception of flavour. In the UK, much of the influential research in this area comes from the Crossmodal Research Laboratory in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford.

The Laboratory was founded in 1997 and the team there study the integration of information across the different sensory modalities (hearing, vision, touch, taste, and smell). This is an area of research that is changing the way we view our senses. Traditionally, vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste have been studied in isolation. However, recent research has shown sensory processing within a single sense is modulated by information from the other senses.

One area of interest to the Oxford laboratory is how our understanding of multisensory perception can be used by the food industry to improve the perception of foods and drinks. Professor Charles Spence, who heads the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, was interviewed for a recent Guardian article by Amy Fleming (link below). She notes that much of the lab’s work is funded by Unilever, while Prof Spence sits on the scientific advisory board of PepsiCo.

Therefore, this is an area of research that people should be aware of, in order to make informed purchasing decisions. For example, it has been found that ‘crunchy’ correlates with fresh, so food manufactures are making crisps and so forth that sound crunchy even though they are not so fresh. The information also informs product design and marketing. More beneficially (for us), food manufacturers are using crossmodal perception research findings to gradually reduce the salt and sugar content of foods (to meet Government guidelines). One of the early results of crossmodal perception, for instance, was that product colour affects perceptions of flavour and sweetness.

Charles Spence has written a book with his colleague Betina Piqueras-Fiszman called ‘The Perfect Meal’ (published next week in the UK), which presents the laboratory's recent findings on crossmodal perception for general readers. It is structured around the dining experience in a restaurant. It looks at the factors that influence flavour perception, including visual, tactile, cognitive and aural stimuli. For example, the subtle effects of the colour of the plates, the shape of the glass, the names of dishes, and the background music. So, for instance, whisky tastes better in a “woody” room, while food plated to resemble a work of art tastes better than when it is indifferently put on a plate.

A signature dish for crossmodal perception is the ‘Sound of the Sea’ served at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant. This seafood and fish dish plays on taste, aroma, sound and the overall nostalgic experience of the seaside. It is served with an iPod (inside a conch shell from which headphones emerge) playing seaside sounds, specifically waves crashing on a beach. The flat glass plate on which the food is served is placed on top of a rectangular box containing a bed of sand, while edible sand (made from tapioca), pieces of edible seaweed, and a wave of salty sea foam (vegetable and seaweed broth) surround the fish and seafood. Charles Spence collaborated with Heston Blumenthal on the creation of this dish, which is based on work concerning sound and flavour done in the Oxford laboratory.

So, if your waiter comes across all Derren Brown, there may be crossmodal perception at play. When it comes to food advertising, packaging and the perception of processed food products, however, you (the consumer) are not supposed to be aware of the psychology being applied. So, now is a good time to read up on what’s being cooked up in the lab (links below).

For instance, a recent paper from the laboratory found that the perception of green, yellow, and orange drinks was influenced by the shape of the glass in which the drink was presented, and the authors advised that for advertising and product packaging the appropriateness of the glassware be carefully considered. Another paper confirmed that fruit juices were considered 'sweet and low in sourness' were consistently matched with rounder shapes and speech sounds, and lower-pitched sounds, and were generally liked more; meanwhile, those juices that were rated as tasting 'sour' were consistently matched with angular shapes, sharper speech sounds, and sounds with a higher pitch, and were liked less.

The Oxford team have also found that the sounds of a food product’s name are generally associated with both sensory and conceptual attributes. This forms part of a wider area of study, looking at how retail spaces can provide non-verbal cues to improve sales.

Further reading:

Pete Brown on beer and music

Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford

‘Charles Spence: The food scientist changing the way we eat’, by Amy Fleming

Make your own 'Sound of the Sea'

‘Beverage perception and consumption: The influence of the container on the perception of the contents.’ Wan and Spence, 2015 (in press). Food Quality and Preference 39: 131-140.

‘Do you say it like you eat it? The sound symbolism of food names and its role in the multisensory product experience.’ Favalli et al., 2013. Food Research International 54: 760-791.

‘Retail atmospherics and in-store non-verbal cues: an introduction.’ Grewel et al., 2014. Psychology and Marketing 31: 469-471.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Queen Street, Cardiff

If you tell people about the interesting buildings along Queen Street you might get a funny look. That’s because at street level it looks like any other pedestrianised high street in the UK, with the generic shop fronts of familiar UK-wide chains. Therefore, I have pointed the camera toward the street art and the upper parts of buildings to capture the more Cardiff-specific parts of Queen Street.

On the near corner:

2 Queen Street CF10 2BU
Cornershop convenience store (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. April 2012).

At the entrance to Queen Street is the statue of Aneurin "Nye" Bevan, founder of the National Health Service (link to an account of his life below).  The statue was made by Robert Thomas in 1987, who was subsequently commissioned to do a series of sculptures along Queen Street.

Across the road, and one the other corner:

Pizza Hut
3a Queen Street CF10 2AF
Basement dining (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. June 2013).

Back on the other (south) side of the street:

There used to be a plaque commemorating Robert Drane (who once owned a Chemist shop here) on the wall where Thomas Cook is now. This was bronze plaque originally, but was replaced by a slate plaque put up by Cardiff Naturalists’ Society in July 2000. It is no longer there. I would welcome any information regarding the whereabouts of this plaque.


There is a slate plaque on the north side of Queen Street (no 11) commemorating Eric L Dutton MBE, and the community work he did in the city, which was unveiled in July 2002.

13 Queen Street CF10 2AQ
Founded in the early 1990s, this is the original chain of £1 discount stores. Poundland has around 520 shops in the UK, and in the wake of Woolworths demise, it and its many £1 shop competitors have expanded rapidly to colonise every high street. Food producers make special sizes so Poundland can sell them for £1. For example, Walkers crisps sell in multiples of 6 or 12 in mainstream supermarkets, but Poundland sells five-packs. Rather than keep quoting from the recent excellent article in New Statesman, I have given a link to it below (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Jan 2014).


12-14 Queen Street CF10 2BU
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. May 2014).

20-22 Queen Street CF10 2BU
This used to be called Chopstix Noodle Bar. Like Chopstix, it serves stir-fry oriental food in waxed boxes. You can eat in on two dining levels (“over 100 seats”) or take-away (Food Hygiene Rating 2: improvement necessary. May 2013).

Opposite the Queens Street Arcade entrance:

Little Waitrose
15 Queen Street CF10 2AQ
Convenience store and one of several examples in central Cardiff illustrating how the major supermarkets are moving back onto city centre high streets (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. March 2012).

29 Queen Street CF10 2PB (2039 5074)
Pillars Restaurant and Coffee Shop is a Cardiff institution. The kids taken by their mothers here during shopping breaks are now here with their own children. British food, from buffet-style serving counters. Breakfasts, cold selection, hot selection, vegetarian and children’s menu. Hot selection includes roast chicken, casserole, curry, and fish and chips Good-value food in large portions (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Feb 2013).

At the entrance to the Dominions Arcade, look inside. Of the several food businesses operating in the arcade in recent years, only one remains:

Sandwiched in the City
2 Dominions Arcade CF10 2AR
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. June 2013).

Opposite on the south side of Queen Street:

46-48 Queen Street CF10 2GQ
Just down the pedestrian cul-de-sac of Frederick Street / Heol Frederic:

3 Frederick Street CF10 2DB
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Dec 2011).

Continue along Queen Street:

British Home Stores
50-54 Queen Street CF10 2AF
(Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Feb 2012).

On your right is the entrance to St David’s shopping centre (a previous location on the walking tour. Opposite the entrance to St David’s is Ann Summers (51 Queen Street).

36-38 Queen Street CF10 2RG
Boots the Chemist has increased the space it gives over to ‘meal deals, and other lunchtime food and drink options in recent years (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Oct 2010).

Marks and Spencer
72-76 Queen Street CF10 2XG
Café and Coffee Shop at front on first floor, visible within the modern glass extension (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Nov 2011) and Food to Go on the ground floor (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. March 2013).

As you walk down Queen Street, you will encounter other sculptures by Robert Thomas (1926-1999), including Mother and Son, The Miner and (just around the corner in Churchill Place) The Family. There are information boards near these, if you wish to find out more.

At the corner with Charles Street:

Burger King
78 Queen Street CF10 2GR
"Seats 120 upstairs" (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Feb 2013).

Across Queen Street is the start of Park Place, which we will explore later. Then:

Thorntons Chocolates
91 Queen Street CF10 2BG

Churchill Way is off to the right here.

The short-lived New York Milkshakes was here on the north side (105-107 Queen Street CF10 2BG) late summer 2012 for about a year.

Chef’s Choice
109 Queen Street CF10 2BH
A stall selling fresh fruit in the entrance to the alley (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Feb 2014).

125 Queen Street CF10 2BJ (2037 3622)
The largest of the Starbucks on Queen Street, with outdoor seating (Food Hygiene Rating 4: good. Feb 2014).

127 Queen Street CF10 2BJ
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. May 2012).

129 Queen Street CF10 2BJ
One of the older supermarket located in the city centre - it never left (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. July 2013).


The Capitol Centre (CF10 2HQ) on the final south block of Queen Street opened in 1990. It’s owned by the Moorfield Group. Fashion stores have been the mainstay, with H&M anchoring. A Virgin Megastore used to be prominent in the building’s prow, and this is now an Easygym.

Food-related businesses in The Capitol Centre:

Tesco Metro

Caffe Nero
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Nov 2012)

The Gourmet Spaniard
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. July 2013).

Soho Coffee Co

Pret a Manger
(Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. March 2013).


Café Caribe
This café on the first floor is currently promoting ‘superfood’ smoothies and juices, with ingredients including spirula algae, almond milk, goji berries, beetroot and South American maca root, to entice health-conscious people coming out of the Easygym (Food Hygiene Rating 5: very good. Jan 2013).

The Capitol Centre went through a period of decline, with competition from the extended St Davids Centre, but has been revitalised over the past couple of years with the opening of a Tesco Metro, the arrival of more coffeehouses and the announcement just this week of the reopening of the original cinema that closed in 2001 (see link below).

I’ll see you outside the front door next time.

See also:

Aneurin Bevan

‘In for a pound’ by Sophie McBain. New Statesman 23-29 May 2014

Cinema to reopen in Capitol Centre

Previously, on the Walking Tour of Cardiff: