Research by the University of Geneva shows that Swiss citizens are more sensitive to the smell of chocolate than non-Swiss.
The study, which was published in Nature Scientific Reports on Tuesday, repeatedly exposed 50 students, half of whom were Swiss, to the odour of chocolate and asked them to comment on its intensity. The Swiss participants, especially those who were made conscious of their Swiss identity though a questionnaire, showed the greatest sensitivity to the smell of chocolate over time.
This group was more chocolate-sensitive than their non-Swiss counterparts that were also pre-exposed to the Swiss identity questionnaire or even Swiss volunteers who did not get the “Swissness” exposure.
The experiment was also conducted with popcorn – chosen because it was tasty and had no connection to Swiss identity – which did not elicit any olfactory bias. Cheese was also a candidate for the experiment but was abandoned as the researchers found out that it was often mistaken for “the smell of feet”.
“We wanted to understand how social identity can change our perception of the world,” study author Géraldine Coppin told swissinfo.ch. “One way of demonstrating this is by showing that our sense of smell is flexible.”
Coppin also wants to test if the Swiss demonstrate a special affinity for chocolate when their identity is threatened, for example when exposed to questions about immigration. Studies on visual perception have shown that social identity influences behaviour, sometimes in unpleasant ways like racism.