Bittersweet symphony

Will drinking tonic water make you smarter?

Researchers from the University of Queensland have discovered that people who love tonic water may have bigger brains.

UQ Diamantina Institute Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Daniel Hwang said brain size doesn’t just relate to how smart people are, but also to how bitter they find tonic water.

“Everyone wants to know why we like certain foods and why individuals have preferences for bitter or sweet tastes,” Dr Hwang said.

“It was unclear if brain size affected anything other than a person’s IQ, but now we can show it relates to how we perceive food and drink.”

“Whether you enjoy tonic water or not, people with bigger brains typically find it less bitter.”

The study which is a first in examining how brain size and taste perception are linked, surveyed more than 1600 participants in Australia and America to rate their intensities of different sweet and bitter taste solutions.

Following the intensity taste test, participants then had their brains measured using an MRI scan.

“We found that the left side of the entorhinal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for memory, odour and visual perception, was larger in people who found quinine to be less bitter,” he said.

“Quinine is a key ingredient in tonic water and is commonly used to assess people’s response to a bitter taste.”

Dr Hwang said the results provide an increased understanding of the gustatory cortex, the section of the brain that generates taste sensations and processes taste signals.

“Our study is a step towards understanding exactly how the brain perceives taste,” he said.

“The findings have implications for improving dietary behaviour and treating eating disorders.

“By targeting specific areas in the gustatory cortex, we could treat eating disorders using methods such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, a non-invasive treatment currently used to treat mental illness.”