"What we wanted to find out was at what point the taste of the foods starts to become integrated into the choice process and at what point health is integrated," said lead author of the study Nicolette Sullivan from California Institute of Technology in US.

On average, taste information begins to influence the choice process, almost 200 milliseconds earlier than health information, the findings showed. These findings might one day be useful to encourage people to wait a bit longer before making a food choice.

In an experiment, 28 participants were asked to rate 160 foods individually on a scale from '-2 to 2', based on that food's health benefits, its taste, and how much the participant would like to eat that food after the experiment was over.

They were then presented with 280 random pairings of those same foods and were asked to use a computer mouse to click on the food  they preferred from each pairing.

The researchers then used statistical tools to analyze each participant's cursor movements and therefore the choice process.

"Since taste appears before health, we know that it has an advantage in the ultimate decision. However, once health comes online, if you wait allowing the health information to accumulate for longer that might give health a chance to catch up and influence the choice," Sullivan explained.

The study appeared in the journal Psychological Science.

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