Taste Feedback

Mint Dental Floss

Illustration Credit: Hakka via Flickr

I recently became aware of how taste feedback can be important in accomplishing an everyday task.

I bought dental floss not long ago without paying much attention to what I was buying. Turns out, it was mint-flavored dental floss. While flossing with it for the first time, I became oddly disoriented by the fresh minty taste. It wasn’t a positive or negative reaction to the taste itself. It was disorientation with the task at hand.

We’re all familiar with feedback – mostly in the visual or auditory sense. Press a button to call an elevator, and it lights up to tell you that you’ve pressed it. Press a newfangled crosswalk button, and it beeps. Without feedback, there is no confirmation that our intended input was successful. People press the old style crosswalk buttons repeatedly hoping that out of the six or seven attempts they make to trigger the button, one will be successful. Side note: many old corsswalk buttons are leftover “placebo buttons” that have been made obsolete by computer-controlled systems. In some cases, they actually trigger the traffic lights, but only at certain times.

What I realized in this case was that while flossing, I use the sense of taste for feedback. Taste tells me whether I have dislodged a piece of food. It’s my light on the elevator call button. With mint floss, the light was on all the time. It’s like trying to read text that is all bold or navigate an intersection littered with too many signs.

Next time, it’s back to unflavored floss.

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