Pumpkin Spice (and All Great Stuff): We Love It Because There’s Brain Science Behind It
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It may still be summer on the calendar, but fall is already in full swing at coffee shops, bakeries and retailers across the country thanks to pumpkin spice in many of their products.
According to advertising publication Ad Age, at least $500 million is spent on pumpkin spice-flavored products in the United States each year.
So why do we love this particular flavor so much?
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According to psychologists and researchers, we like to think of autumn and the warm feelings of family, home, and nostalgia that season brings.
Matt Johnson, a Boston-based psychologist who specializes in the application of psychology to marketing, shared his neuroscience and marketing insights around our love for this particular flavor.
“Flavours are very closely tied to the arrival of autumn and the nostalgic, healthy vibe of the family and the changing leaves,” he told Fox News Digital by phone.
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Johnson is the author of two books: Blind Side: The (mostly) hidden ways Marketing reshapes our Brain and Branding that Means Business. He is also a Harvard Professor of Psychology at the International Business School in Boston and a Lecturer at Harvard University.
Noting that Starbucks launched the Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003, which kicked off the pumpkin spice craze, Johnson said the drink was an “instant success” and became “the most successful seasonal drink of all time.” said.
Starbucks keeps its Pumpkin Spice Latte (also known as PSL) as a seasonal drink, which is “one of the key ingredients to its success,” Johnson said.
Looking more closely at our love of this particular flavor, Johnson said there is a window into the “neuroscience of taste.”
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“We are very visual creatures, but taste is one of our weakest senses,” he said.
Our taste buds are actually “very impressive,” Johnson continued.
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“We are not tasting objectively,” he explained.
The relationship between autumn and pumpkin spice is built in the medial temporal lobe, which can be thought of as the “associative network” of the brain.
According to Johnson, many experiments have been conducted to test the accuracy of human taste. “For example, we really can’t tell the difference between wines. [distinctions] It’s pretty much what we think we can do,” he shared.
According to Johnson, the association between fall and pumpkin spice is built in the medial temporal lobe, which can be thought of as the brain’s “associative network.” The medial temporal lobe organizes the concepts we learn and how they are related, he said.
So when the idea of either Pumpkin Spice or Fall is activated, “it’s so close in the medial temporal lobe that it automatically triggers the other,” he said.
He said product marketers “have been very successful in associating autumn with pumpkin spice, and you can’t say one or the other is missing. This association has an impact on perception itself.” Added.
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Interestingly, Pumpkin Spice does not contain actual pumpkin.
“For me, every year Pumpkin Spice is the first signal that fun family time is just around the corner.”
“There are no pumpkin ingredients in pumpkin spice itself,” Ethan Frisch, spice expert and owner of sustainable spice trading firm Burlap and Barrel, tells Verify.com.
Instead, Frisch said it’s a blend of four to five spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.
Cars may be lining up at drive-thru windows across the country for hot pumpkin spice drinks and treats, but one everyday American who doesn’t mind pumpkin spice tells Fox News Digital that it includes pumpkin spice. He says he still likes looking at the product billboards.
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“I don’t consume any pumpkin spice products, but I love seeing the billboards advertising them because that means fall is coming,” says Carol Purcell of Columbia, Maryland.
“It reminds me of my favorite holiday, Halloween, coming soon, followed by Christmas.”
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She added, “For me, the arrival of Pumpkin Spice each year is the first signal that fun family time is just around the corner.”