Are you one of those people who just can’t stand the smell or taste of cheese? Don’t worry, you’re not alone and now a group of French scientists have just explained the reason why, by providing an insight into the areas of the brain which decide whether you like the yellow stuff or not.
While many of us find the smell of a very ripe camembert a little off putting, some people actually hate the smell of cheese. And with over 1600 varieties of cheese in France alone, it’s something we sometimes can’t avoid.
As so many people seem to dislike the smell of cheese, the scientists decided to see whether this was all down to ‘aversion’ – a key element for survival in the animal world. For their study the researchers studied a sample of 332 people and found that 6 percent of them had an aversion to cheese, while only 2.7 percent had an aversion to fish, with an even lower number having an aversion to cured meats. Eighteen percent of the people with an aversion to cheese, also claimed to be lactose intolerant. Furthermore, 47 percent of cheese haters said that someone else in their family didn’t like cheese either. From this anecdotal evidence, the researchers believe that a dislike of cheese may be down to your genes, and that it may be related to being lactose intolerant.
Faced with this information, the researchers wanted to go one step further and use functional magnetic resonance imaging to see what’s going on in the brains of people who do like cheese and those who don’t. To do this, they selected fifteen cheese lovers and an equal number of people who didn’t like cheese. All thirty were simultaneously exposed to the image and smell of six types of cheese together with six other types of food. Each was asked whether they liked the look and the smell of the food, and whether they’d like to eat them.
As the researchers observed the brain activity, they noticed that the ventral pallidum, a small structure in the brain that becomes active when we’re hungry, was totally inactive when the cheesy smells and images were presented to those who claimed to have an aversion. However, it was active when faced with images and smells of other foods. However, what was even more surprising to the researchers was that the globus pallidus and the sustantia nigra areas of the brain became more active in people with the cheese aversion than in those people who liked cheese. These two areas are usually involved in the reward circuit, which suggests that they’re also triggered in response to an aversion stimulus.
In order to provide an explanation for the duplicity of these two structures, the researchers have suggested that both of these regions contain two different types of neurons which complement each other. One type is activated when faced with reward, the other type is activated when faced with something aversive.
If you want to know more, head over to the online journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, where everything will be explained.