Virtual Reality Scent Tricks Taste Buds

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Virtual reality has been a realm typically explored with sight and sound. Recent innovations have delved into the world of virtual touch, but for the most part, experiencing virtual taste has remained largely unexplored. However, a team of researchers at the University of Tokyo are working to change that.

Takuji Narumi and her colleagues created a virtual reality system, dubbed Meta Cookie, that works with smell and sight to manipulate users' perceptions of the taste of a cookie. Participants wore a special mask that produces sights and smells and were given a plain cookie. They were shown an image of a certain type of cookie and then exposed to that scent. Researchers were able to choose from seven cookie scents, ranging from almond to strawberry to chocolate and maple.

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When asked to describe what kind of cookie they believed they were eating, the subjects were regularly fooled by the virtual reality system. Despite eating a plain cookie, the olfactory and visual stimulation often caused subjects to believe they were eating, for example, a lemon-flavored cookie.

The cookie's texture does provide an undeniable advantage for users of Meta Cookie. Even though people were eating a cookie with no flavor, it still had the texture of the supposed cookie, making it difficult for a person to believe they were eating anything else.

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While there is no word on any future commercial prospects for scent-based virtual reality systems, the technology behind Meta Cookie certainly makes mouths water.

Photo: The University of Tokyo/Takuji Narumi

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