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Taste sensitivity is assessed with various techniques, including absolute detection and quality recognition. For any stimulus, one might expect individual differences in sensitivity to be reflected in all measures, but they are often surprisingly independent. Here, we focus on sensitivity to sour and salty taste, in part because processing of these qualities is poorly understood relative to other tastes. In Study 1, we measured retest reliability for detection (modified, forced-choice staircase method) and recognition (modified Harris-Kalmus procedure) for both citric acid (CA) and sodium chloride (NaCl). Despite good retest reliability, individual differences in detection and recognition were weakly correlated, suggesting that detection and recognition of sour and salty stimuli may reflect different physiological processes. In Study 2, a subset of subjects returned to contribute full detection (psychometric) functions for CA and NaCl. Thresholds estimated from full detection functions correlated with both staircase and recognition thresholds, suggesting that both tasks may reflect absolute sensitivity to some extent. However, the ranges of individual differences were systematically compressed for staircase thresholds relative to those from full detection functions. Thus, individual differences in sensitivity appear to interact with different test methodologies in lawful ways. More work will be required to understand how different taste phenotypes relate to one another.

Citation

Paul M Wise, Paul A S Breslin. Individual differences in sour and salt sensitivity: detection and quality recognition thresholds for citric acid and sodium chloride. Chemical senses. 2013 May;38(4):333-42

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PMID: 23413310

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