Anyone who has worked in a shared office will know that people can get possessive over their favorite coffee cup. But it’s not just personal preference. Professor Charles Spence, an Oxford University academic and founding father of Gastrophysics — a nascent discipline that attempts to unpick the scientific and psychological factors that underpin flavor and eating habits — believes that forming an attachment to one particular cup is not a matter of habit but of taste. Drinking coffee from a favorite cup, he believes, actually improves its flavor.
In his recent book, Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating, Spence argues that drinking coffee from a favorite cup creates a personalized experience whereby drinkers may transfer feelings of ownership and familiarity to the contents (known by behavioral experts as “sensation transference”) or ascribe more value to it as a result of owning the cup (known as the “endowment effect), in turn improving its perceived taste.
“The funny thing is that when you quiz them people often feel almost embarrassed to admit they prefer their favourite mug, because at one level they believe it can’t change the taste, that they are somehow just being silly,” Spence writes. “And yet, as a gastrophysicist, I firmly believe that this form of personalization really does make a difference to how much we enjoy the experience—a subtle one, perhaps, but significant nonetheless.”