Client: Digital Blonde

Objective: To understand the difference in emotional responses to real food versus food seen online

Outcome: An experiment was conducted on diners and an online population to gauge their reactions to a range of innovative dishes

Digital Blonde approach brainchimp‘s partner The Web Psychologist to design and carry out an experiment looking at people’s emotional reactions to food – and how that carries through to the social media world where ‘foodies’ post pictures of their meals online.

At an event set up by Digital Blonde, diners experienced seven innovative dishes created using the theme of fairy tales – for example, one dish consisted of three small porridges (although their temperatures were all ‘just right’).

brainchimp created an experimental design, and a survey, in order to measure the diners’ responses and compare them with those of online respondents. At the event, diners filled in the brainchimp-designed survey when each meal was brought to the table, but before tasting it. The survey itself consisted of questions to gauge perceptions of the meal, as well as a visual self-report measure of emotion (i.e. respondents chose the facial expression that best matched their reaction). Diners also completed a measure of mood before and after eating each dish.

After the event, brainchimp recruited online participants to answer the same questions (where applicable) but for pictures of the dishes. There were two online groups: one viewed standard photos of the dishes; the other viewed photos with an accompanying ‘Tweet’ describing the dish verbally. This condition was suggested on the basis of prior research showing that food is perceived to taste better if, for example, it is described as “Grandma’s Homemade Cookies” rather than just “Cookies”.

brainchimp then analysed the data, looking for statistically significant differences, and drew out clear insights.

This work was all completed to a tight deadline, and produced some fascinating insights for use at a subsequent press event. For example:

  • For the online participants, the descriptive ‘Tweet’ increased emotional responses to the dishes – however, while people were more likely to experience desire, the same was true of disgust.
  • The offline experience, being more sensory and immersive, resulted in emotional reactions being stronger still.
  • Emotional reactions were much more likely to be positive offline than online.


brainchimp’s knowledge and dedication proved to be invaluable on a recent experimental project involving psychological research. They were insightful and able to help every step of the way – from planning to survey creation, right through to analysis of the results. brainchimp helped us to fuse creativity with academically sound research, which resulted in some fantastic press coverage for the project.
Karen Fewell, Director, Digital Blonde