Black coffee and psychopaths: Here's what the research says about bitter food and personality

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If you have a taste for bitter foods and drinks, one study suggests you could be more likely to exhibit psychopathic and sadistic personality traits -- but, as always, there's a catch. (Getty Images)

If you have a taste for bitter foods and drinks, one study suggests you could be more likely to exhibit psychopathic and sadistic personality traits -- but, as always, there's a catch.

In 2015, researchers working with the University of Innsbruck in Austria surveyed nearly 1,000 Americans about their food tastes. In two different studies, they asked about subjects' taste for sweet, sour, salty and bitter food and drinks. They then cross-referenced taste preferences with self-reported data from four different personality surveys designed to gauge antisocial personality traits like psychopathy, sadism, narcissism and aggression.

While researchers did ask those surveyed how much they liked individual bitter foods and drinks, they found that those who broadly said they enjoyed bitter foods were more likely to exhibit antisocial personality traits, not those who said they liked individual bitter foods like black coffee, radishes and tonic water.

"The results suggest that how much people like bitter tasting foods and drinks is stably tied to how dark their personality is," researchers Christina Sagiogloua and Tobias Greitemeyerb wrote. They warned, though, that research linking taste preferences to personality traits is "still in its early stages" and "evidence is still scarce" in general.

Writing for The Conversation in 2015, Australian Catholic University senior lecturer Megan Willis, who was not associated with the Innsbruck study, pointed out that "psychopathy is...conceptualized as a personality trait that falls along a continuum," meaning that those who exhibit the trait aren't necessarily "the most calculating of criminals." She also took issue with media reports labeling those who drink black coffee and gin and tonic as psychopaths.

"The only thing this study found was a weak positive relationship between psychopathy and a general penchant for bitter things," Willis opined. "In my view, this link is negligible compared with other, more well-established predictors of psychopathy, such as a person's genes or sex."

In a more recent interview with Health magazine, Roosevelt University Professor Steven Myers echoed Willis' sentiments: "The findings need to be interpreted with caution, and the results would need to be replicated by others before they deserve widespread attention."

The research, "Individual differences in bitter taste preferences are associated with antisocial personality traits," was published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Appetite in 2016 and has recirculated on the internet repeatedly, most recently in November 2018.
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