Dr. Laura Boman, assistant professor of marketing in Mercer’s Stetson-Hatcher School of Business, recently co-authored “Less Light, Better Bite,” a research paper that received international media attention for its findings about how lighting impacts the taste of food.
Dr. Boman frequently conducts research regarding consumer behavior and how visual stimuli persuade consumers to receive messages in various ways.
“Most of my research is based on when we see something and how it is perceived subconsciously and how that affects our behaviors,” Dr. Boman said. “It’s a part of my job description that I really enjoy.”
The topic of “Less Light, Better Bite” piqued Dr. Boman’s interest as she wondered why bright lights were used in fast-food restaurants and dim lights in upscale eateries.
Dr. Boman collaborated with Dr. Sarah Lefebvre of Murray State University and Dr. Jonathan Hasford of the University of Tennessee, researchers who work in consumer behavior with an emphasis on nutrition.
“This paper kind of meshed our two worlds together with the perception of taste and visual effects,” Dr. Boman said. “For one study, they used sunglasses to influence people’s visual perception, and for another they used dimming the lights in eating establishments.”
The research was conducted in a controlled laboratory environment, where excess noise and distractions were accounted for during the experiments. All subjects were given the same food to eat.
“We placed the subjects in a very plain, empty room and adjusted the lighting,” Dr. Boman said. “Whether it’s dimming the lights or putting the sunglasses on, everyone had to evaluate how their food tasted.”
The research found there was a significant difference in perceptions as the subjects ate food in brighter versus darker settings. A similar phenomenon also occurred when individuals ate with clear lens glasses versus sunglasses.
“If you eat single-dimension foods that are either salty or sweet, they taste better in the dark, and if it’s both salty and sweet, there is no difference in taste,” Dr. Boman said. “This has much to do with sensory compensation, which happens when a sense is heightened when another is unavailable. It’s funny how the mind works.”
Dr. Boman’s research was featured in a Daily Mail article suggesting that readers make use of the findings to improve their holiday meals.
“It was very exciting because I’m a new professor and researcher, so I haven’t had a lot published. To have one of my first articles picked up by a major newspaper was amazing,” Dr. Boman said. “It’s rewarding to know your research is being read outside of academia, and knowing that I may have helped a business be more profitable is wonderful.”
Dr. Boman sees Mercer and its mantra to produce “Research That Reaches Out” as a doorway to do work that makes a difference throughout the world and also gives the institution opportunities to be featured on global platforms.
“Mercer has made it very clear to me in my year-and-a-half of working here that they feel like it’s important for us to make an impact on a global scale,” Dr. Boman said. “Getting Mercer’s name out at that scale only benefits all of us and makes for a more well-known school.”