When I think about grabbing a tasty snack, I don't usually think of yogurt — but now science says that might be exactly why yogurt is so nice. According to new research, yogurt makes people happy because it tastes better than we expect. Basically, the research says that we think that yogurt is going to be gross, and when it isn't, we're so pleasantly surprised that it boosts our mood.
For a long time now, researchers have theorized that yogurt's ability to improve people's mood had something to do with the types of bacteria found in fermented food. However, a new study published in Food Research International suggests a different explanation.
In the study, participants were given two servings of yogurt, which had different flavors and fat content, but were from the same brand and were marketed the same way. Researchers asked participants first if they liked yogurt and monitored their eyes and facial movements. They then asked participants to complete an emotive projection test in which participants were shown photos of people and asked to rate them based on positive and negative traits, which can help researchers to gauge a subject's mood.
Surprisingly, researchers found that people were more likely to ascribe positive traits to the photos after eating low-fat yogurt, especially vanilla — and this was true even if the participants said they didn't like yogurt. So if people weren't happy because they were enjoying a food they knew that they liked, then what gives? Well, the researchers' theory is that people were pleasantly surprised by the taste of the yogurt, which they expected to be less enjoyable than it was. And that surprise was enough to make people a bit happier.
As for why vanilla in particular seemed to have an effect, it could be some specific property of vanilla itself — or it could be that plain-looking yogurt has more potential to appear unappetizing, and thus, there's more payoff when it turns out to taste good after all.
So basically, yogurt can make you happier, but only because your brain thinks it's going to be gross. And then when it isn't, your brain gets all excited. I can't decide if this a good thing for yogurt or just kind of sad. Either way, you should go forth and enjoy a yogurt cup today. It'll make you happier.