1000 footsteps, foraging & mere exposure

img_20161022_195016Last Saturday night, I attended the inaugural 1000 Footsteps pop up restaurant event. Adele Nozedar is a foraging guru and her partner, Liam Fitzpatrick a chef. Together they are creating unique meals where the vast majority of the ingredients have either been gathered from the hedgerows or grown within 1000 footsteps of their home in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

30 of us sat by candlelight in the warmth of a blazing log fire in Llangasty village hall as Adele and her team produced dish after dish after dish throughout the evening. Each dish exotically named with little or no resemblance to food we’d seen, heard of or tasted before – “drunken chicken in the woods”, “poor man’s cheese” etc etc.

Much laughter and interesting conversations reverberated round the table triggered by the many novel looking, sounding and tasting ingredients. But after a couple of courses, I found myself increasingly craving something familiar – “please please give me a taste I can recognise – one to which I can attach a known adjective!”. It’s not that I disliked any of the completely new tastes but I found I wasn’t particularly relishing them either in the sense of “wow, give me more of that!”

So, then the psychologist kicked into action – what was happening here? Did I not like foraged foods? Why was my brain almost shouting to be given something it recognised – something to latch onto.  At that point, I realised I was experiencing the “mere exposure effect” in action.

img_20161022_201815Mere-exposure is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to prefer stimuli to which they have been previously exposed and the more they are exposed to them, the stronger their liking grows. Experimentally, the mere exposure effect has proved robust across all kinds of stimuli – visual images, music, words and tastes. And, intriguingly, stimuli which you are not conscious you have encountered before (because they were presented subliminally for example) show an even greater effect on liking than ones you are aware you’ve encountered before. One explanation for mere exposure is that we favour things which take our brains the least effort to process.

So, whilst hesitant to offer advice to an experienced forager and talented chef, I have two thoughts on their 1000 Footsteps venture from a psychology perspective…

I suggest subtly re-introducing some of the more novel ingredients from Course 1 into Course 3 or 4 and see if people like them better 2nd time around whilst not necessarily realising they have actually tasted them already! Also combining the unknown (taste wise) with more of the known and familiar might help the more novel-nervous. Research shows that we improve our chances of developing a liking toward a new experience if that experience has at least some familiar elements in it.

And for those of you out there who haven’t yet signed up for a 1000 Footsteps pop up dinner, my advice is ‘go for it!’ It’s a fabulous experience and by expanding the tastes which you’ve now experienced (if only once!), you stand to significantly increase the enjoyment you derive from eating …..or for that matter anything!

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About Alison Kidd

Research Psychologist
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