Great Dessert? Depends on the Plate

Desserts are sweeter on white plates, comedians are kinder off stage, and small feet are more attractive ... in our latest Cocktail Napkin.
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Desserts are sweeter on white plates, comedians are kinder off stage, and small feet are more attractive ... in our latest Cocktail Napkin.

Desserts are a temptation few can resist, but never underestimate the power of the plate.

In the journal Food Quality and Preferences, Spanish researchers describe an experiment in which 53 volunteers rated two samples of strawberry mousse for sweetness, flavor intensity, and overall quality. For half the participants, the first serving was on a black plate, the second on a white one; for the others, the order was reversed.

They consistently rated the mousse on the white plate — of course identical to the mousse on the black plate — as sweeter and having a more intense flavor. “The white background may have influenced the perceived pinkness of the mousse,” the researchers speculate. “This in turn may have influenced the perceived sweetness of the dessert.”

Given that nutritionists worry about the amount of salt and sugar we consume, the research raises the question of whether we could satisfy our cravings in a healthier way through the right combination of food item and plate color. That organic bran muffin may satiate your sweet tooth after all; as any hostess knows, the trick is in the presentation.

Stand-up Research
Two guys walk into a bar. One says, “Aren’t comedians neurotic?” The other replies, “Actually, I have evidence to the contrary.” A detailed survey of 31 stand-up comics, conducted by a research team led by University of New Mexico anthropologist Gil Greengross, found they are far more likely to engage in self-enhancing or “affiliative” humor (that is, joking with friends or using laughs as an antidote for stress or depression) than the aggressive or self-defeating variety (mocking others or joking about their own weaknesses or faults) in their everyday lives.

The March-April 2012

This article appears in our March-April 2012 issue under the title "It’s Black or White." To see a schedule of when more articles from this issue will appear on, please visit the
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“This is a striking difference from their on-stage use of humor, which is often hostile and aggressive,” the researchers write. “This discrepancy in humor styles epitomizes the difference between comedians’ apparent on-stage personas (aggressive, extraverted) and their private personas (generally nice and surprisingly introverted).” Successful comics don’t fling clever insults at their friends or colleagues: that’s what audiences are for.

From the Department of the Obvious, the researchers also report comedians score higher than college students in “humor production ability.” Insert your own joke here.

The International Appeal of Dainty Feet
Was Fats Waller a cultural anthropologist? One of the legendary jazz pianist’s biggest hits was the rollicking “Your Feet’s Too Big,” in which he rejects a woman because — as he gently explains to her — “Your pedal extremities are colossal!” Far from a fetishist, the big man was expressing a widely held sentiment, according to a research team led by UCLA’s Daniel M.T. Fessler.

In the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, Fessler and his not-so-dainty number of co-authors (22!) report “small foot size is preferred when judging women.” Their 2011 paper describes six studies, including one with 1,300 participants from eight nations who examined a series of digitally manipulated images of a woman and picked the ones they thought most attractive. Those in which her feet were smallest were the clear choice of both men and women. No such effect was found when the experiment was repeated using images of men.

These results were replicated around the world, with the exception of the Karo Batak, “a rural Indonesian population in which people engage in substantial manual labor and frequently walk barefoot.” The researchers note, “Women with large feet were viewed as stronger and better able to work in the fields,” and thus better mate material. But it appears that everywhere else smaller feet are associated with youth and femininity, and thus desirability. They paid off for Cinderella.

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