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Prescott J.


In: Murray MM, Wallace MT, editors.


The Neural Bases of Multisensory Processes. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2012. Chapter 35.
Frontiers in Neuroscience.


Writing in the early nineteenth century, the gastronomic pioneer, Brillat-Savarin was “tempted to believe that smell and taste are in fact but a single sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and whose chimney is the nose” (Brillat-Savarin 1825). Much of the subsequent history of perception research in the chemical senses has, in contrast, been characterized by a focus on discrete sensory channels, and their underlying anatomy and physiology. However, there has recently been renewed interest in examining flavor as a functional perceptual system. This has been borne to some extent out of a realization that in our everyday food experiences, we respond, perceptually and hedonically, not to discrete tastes, odors, and tactile sensations, but to flavors constructed from a synthesis of these sensory signals (Prescott 2004b). This refocus regarding flavor is very much in line with the ecological approach to perception that had been advocated by Gibson (1966). Gibson argued that the primary purpose of perception is to seek out objects in our environment, particularly those that are biologically important. As such, the physiological origin of sensory information is less salient than that the information can be used in object identification. Effectively, then, the key to successful perception is that sensory information is interpreted as qualities that belong to the object itself. Within this context, flavor can be seen as a functionally distinct sense that is cognitively “constructed” from the integration of distinct physiologically defined sensory systems (such as olfaction and gustation) that are “functionally united when anatomically separated” (Gibson 1966, p. 137) in order to identify and respond to objects that are important to our survival, namely, foods.

Copyright © 2012 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

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