An unexpected correlation was discovered between the preference for bitter foods and everyday sadism, according to a new study published in the journal Appetite.

In two studies on 953 people, Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer from the University of Innsbruck in Austria investigated how bitter food preferences are associated with antisocial personality traits. They analyzed Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, everyday sadism, trait aggression, and the Big Five factors of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Volunteers self-reported their taste preference.

People who enjoy bitter foods like olives is associated to more sadistic behavior. Image via Morguefile.

The hypothesis behind this test was that everyone eats and drinks, but what we enjoy eating and drinking can reveal some of our personal traits, including complex phenomena such as morality and emotional distress. This is a tricky field of research, because inherently, the sense of taste is biased and individual. However, a preference for sweet taste has already been demonstrated in children and infants, and even studies on other animals have showed that usually, they prefer sweet foods. This carries an evolutionary advantage, because sweet foods generally have a higher nutritional value, while bitterness can be an indication of toxicity.

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But humans love many bitter foods (some more than others). Could it be that the extent to which people learn to relish bitter substances is related to their personality?

They set out to test this, and the results came out positive – namely, there was a very good connection between bitterness preference and everyday sadism.

“The present research has demonstrated that bitter taste preferences are associated with more pronounced malevolent personality traits, especially robustly with everyday sadism. The sample was a large community sample, thereby representing a wide section of the population. In establishing a robust link between taste preferences and personality traits, this research reveals furtherreal-world behavioral correlates of antisocial personality traits.”

Of course, as we’ve said over and over, correlation does not imply causality – there may be another (or several other combined) facto working and causing both these predispositions.

You can read the entire study here.