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Thrill Seekers More Likely To Enjoy Spicy Foods, Research Suggests

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Like bungee jumping? What about scuba diving, or caving? You may be a thrill seeker, and possibly more likely than the average Joe to tuck into some spicy food when the day is done.

Research by doctoral candidate Nadia Byrnes at Pennsylvania State University suggests that certain aspects of personality, like sensation-seeking, have a correlation with a preference for hot and spicy foods.

A group of 184 subjects (which admittedly isn't an enormous sample size) were given capsaicin, the zingy component of chile peppers, and asked to rate how much they enjoyed a spicy meal as the capsaicin's burn intensified. Beforehand, the group had been assessed using the Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking (AISS) test; those who score above a mean AISS score are often more open to new experiences than those who score below it.

Byrnes found that people with a higher-than-average AISS score were more likely to enjoy a high-intensity burn, suggesting that the traits could be linked.

"Theoretically, we know that burn intensity and liking are linear related. The more irritating a compound or food gets, the less people should like it," Byrnes said in a release. "But that's not always the case."

Last year, Byrnes suggested there may be more nuance to the issue in a story on a Penn State website.

“We expected the sensation-seekers to rate spicy meals higher, for example, and they did," she said of her work with the university's Sensory Evaluation Center.

"But there was variation in their responses depending on the type of spicy meal. Some people like Asian cooking -- which may include capsaicin but has other chemesthetic ingredients, too, like ginger and wasabi -- yet they don’t like chili barbecue. Why do they like one type of spicy and not another?”

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