Mind Genomics: The New Novum Organum
The Love, Lure, Laws & Lore of Research
Howard R. Moskowitz
The Love, Lure & Lore of Research: Musings on the Systematic Creation of Knowledge
Part I: From experience - the personal point of view
Chapter 01: From psychophysics to the business world
Chapter 02: Sensory science and market research: Twins separated at birth?
Chapter 03: From a process to a transaction: Musings on where research is going
Chapter 04: The human side: Getting insights
Chapter 05: The numbers side: Conjoint analysis - Insights through experimental design
Part 2: From working – the organization point of view
Chapter 06: Fostering and sustaining innovation in two solution-provider corporations
Chapter 07: Doing it all oneself – The DesignLab® paradigm
Chapter 08: Outsource Asia: From research back office to research strategic partner
Chapter 09: Advice to the young researcher – a 15 year update
Chapter 10: The role of statistics and the role of the statistician
Chapter 11: It’s all about budgets
Chapter 12: Speed and the two resulting ‘safeties,’: process versus knowledge
Chapter 13: Corporate structures – where does the scientist fit in?
Part 3: From thinking - the intellectual point of view
Chapter 14: The socially coercive lure of the hypothetico deductive
Chapter 15: Moral rectitude and the review of articles submitted to journals
Chapter 16: Kafka lives!: Reflections on expert panels, choice based conjoint, and the world
Introduction to the volume
We are all captives of our world-view. From the earliest age we are indoctrinated with what is
right. Of course our teachers, our mentors, our religious leaders, and of course our parents
cooperate, albeit unconsciously in shaping us. And for the most part we come out ok. There are
disagreements, revolutions, and even heresies. By and large, however, we all pretty much do the
same thing, think the same way on big issues, and mirabile dictu, we get along.
Those of us who end up being so-called knowledge workers know that to begin our careers it’s
always good to spout the ‘party line’, to say what’s expected, and not to disagree too much with
received wisdom. And so our lives progress. We do what’s right, what’s appropriate, not so muchin
the eyes of G-d as what gets us promotion, money, peace of mind, and safety.
Yet, in the fullness of time we find ourselves. And it is in the fullness of that discovery that this
volume is written. We’re not going to talk about the ‘right way’ to do research, the controlled
experiments, the statistics that are more of a superstitious computation on data to prevent the
harpy reviewer from devouring our work. Rather, in this book we’re going to comment on research
thinking, on approaches, on world-views. The goal is not to teach the right way, but in the spirit of
this New Novum Organum, to present the point of view of the loyal opposition.
So with that introduction, let’s dig in to our chapters.
From experience – the personal point of view
From psychophysics to the world: Data acquired, lessons learned
Based on the keynote address, Fifth Pangborn Symposium, July, 2003.
In 1965 I entered Harvard University after a fairly rigorous program of study at Queens
College, of the City University Of New York. Queens College offered a strong program in
experimental psychology, headed by Gregory Razran. My spiritual and intellectual mentors during
that formative period were Professors Louis Herman and William F. Reynolds III. Dr. Herman
encouraged me to do mathematics as well as psychology, recognizing that there would be a need for
this later on. He also pointed to Professor George A. Miller at Harvard as an example of someone
who had made a contribution by combining mathematics and psychology, probably because of the
book “Mathematics and Psychology” (Miller, 1964) that had just appeared around that time. His
advice would turn out to be invaluable in shaping my thinking and research direction. Dr.
Reynolds, in turn, encouraged me to read other areas of psychology, and provided some practical
insights into the life of an experimental psychologist. Reynolds had done his Ph.D. at Iowa, with
Spence, one of the ‘four horseman’, a nickname given to Hull, Felsinger, Spence and Yamaguchi, who
published many seminal articles in learning and behavior in the 1940’s and 1950’s. More than any
other person at the time, he inspired a love of the field.
There was another side of my education, the mathematics side. When I first began my
college education in 1965, I studied basic calculus, finding it to be very enjoyable, as was the follow
on course, in basic statistics, with Professor Fuld. But mathematics was to become my real love.
After Professor Herman ‘suggested’ that I study more mathematics, I took advanced calculus with
the late Banesh Hoffmann, collaborator with Einstein and Infeld, and mentor extraordinaire. It was
Hoffman who encouraged me to move on, to differential equations, linear algebra, mathematical
statistics, and who in the end is as responsible for my love of mathematics as were Drs. Reynolds
and Herman for my love of experimental psychology.
Armed with the mathematics education I received at Queens College, along with a good
background in experimental psychology, I was accepted to Harvard in March 1965, and enrolled for
the Ph.D. in the Psychology Department. It was George Miller himself, one of my professors, who
with prescience a year later, in 1966, assigned me to S.S. Stevens’ psychophysics laboratory, saying
that I was resilient. Little did I know that was to be a description, a blessing, a malediction, but most
of all, the truth.
The Harvard Years
Harvard had its own way of growing professionals. Each student was expected to choose an
area of study. The approach was not particularly collegial in those days, although in retrospect most
of us made it through. Sensation and perception were unusually important at Harvard in the mid
1960’s. E.G., Boring, the historian of experimental psychology and the êminence grise of the
department, had maintained a lifelong interest in problems of perception. His student, S. S. Stevens,
to become my doctoral professor, continued in this vein, with an abiding interest in the relation
between physical features of stimuli and the perceived intensities of those stimuli. Stevens, Smitty
to his colleagues and his students (and to the author, but only three years after receiving the Ph.D.),
instilled in his students a tough-minded approach to science. The scientific efforts had to be
grounded in good but simple thinking – complex hypotheses were not particularly welcome, and
everything was grounded in relatively simple, yet occasionally profound thinking.
It was Stevens’ belief that the task of the scientist was to do science. Doing science meant
formulating simple experiments, generally to uncover the relation between two variables. Doing
science meant going into the laboratory. The objective of the research was to make the
measurement and, implicitly, to demonstrate that, once again, nature was lawful. Simplicity
counted. Simpler relations in nature were in Smitty’s mind the true relations. Should one’s data not
make sense, or should one get an unexpected finding that was intuitively not obvious, the first
question was ‘what did you do wrong’. Implicit in this attitude was Steven’s physicalism. Although
raised a Mormon, and although a missionary in the 1920’s in Belgium, there was no sense of an
immanent, personal God in Stevens’ world. Rather, listening to Stevens was listening to the deep
held belief that the universe functioned like a well-run train system, with all of the integrated parts
E.G. Boring had retired by 1965, when I began, but maintained the habit of taking each first
year graduate student to dinner at the Faculty club, one student at a time. These dinners were
important, because by doing so Boring introduced the student to the personal excitement of
psychology. Boring would regale each of us with personal stories about what happened decades
ago. He enjoyed the graduate dinners thoroughly. Most of us were simply overwhelmed and
frightened. In the end, however, we came out unscathed, except perhaps for vivid memories, mine
being Boring’s recounting of Cornell’s psychological laboratories in 1912, virtually a century ago as
of this revision (2011). Psychology at that time was an intensely personal business at Harvard,
almost replete with the laying on of hands from master to pupil.
Psychophysics at Harvard in the 1960’s, primarily focused on measuring the parameters of
the power function: S = kIn, where S = perceived sensory intensity, I = physical magnitude. The
exponent n was a key parameter showing how rapidly the numerical assignments grew with
sensory intensity. In a later conversation about this approach with Lloyd Beidler, after I left
Harvard to join Natick Laboratories, Beidler stated that the power law might have been
‘interesting’, but led nowhere. Looking back I think I both agree and disagree. Yes, the power law
was descriptive, and made no theoretical claims. But, to give the power law or conjecture its due, it
was an organizing principle against which we young students could measure ourselves. There was a
right answer, at least in terms of Stevens. Having that sense of ‘being right’ was important. It
reinforced each of us who worked in the laboratory, at the start of our career. It was a simple,
possibly baby step, but it anchored us. Many of us would be imprinted at that time on looking for
the right structure in nature. Even after the Ph.D., and during some informal psychophysics
seminars held with Cambridge and Natick Labs people (Linda Bartoshuk, Herb Meiselman, Howard
Moskowitz) the same argument about the utility of structure in nature would arise again and again.
Often the discussion got fierce, as both Linda and Herb can attest. But I get ahead of the story.
The operative rules at Harvard Psychology were fairly straightforward, occasionally painful:
1. Simplify. Smitty encouraged his students to make things simple. If one could not explain the
research idea in a minute or two, Smitty would look gruffly, snort, mutter a bit, and the nervous
student and even occasionally the hapless assistant professor would know that the audience
had ended. One had to be tough-minded to deal with Smitty, to cut away the intellectual flab,
and to get right to the point. A meeting with Smitty would always end with some idea being
simpler and clearer than before. The simplification was almost always accompanied by a sense
of discomfort as well. We were being educated, however.
2. Expect the unexpected, but not the tricky. Smitty was not a fan of the artful dodge. His questions
were simple, straightforward, profound, easy to understand, occasionally hard to answer. The
questions were not academic. They simply asked the individual to define the rationale behind
the research. In Smitty’s mind there was a ‘right answer’ to the question. None of the scientific
‘political correctness’ for Smitty, except perhaps for one affectation. Smitty would never define
the relation between variables for the first time in a paper without using that most ambiguous
of phrases ‘as a first approximation’. He loved that statement, perhaps in the same way that
Homer in his Odyssey used the phrase ‘wine dark sea’ again and again.
3. Concentrate on first order problems. Smitty’s point of view was that everything else beyond
first order problems was pretty much of a waste of one’s time and energy. First order problems
were the only problems worth dealing with. There was no definition of a first order problem,
but like pornography, one would know it when one saw it. The notion of first order problems
would stay with many of us for a lifetime.
4. It is the relation between variables, or how nature works, that is really important. Furthermore
such relation would reveal itself through ‘ocular trauma’, defined as the pain one gets in the
middle of one’s forehead when the data don’t conform to the line of best fit. Smitty was not
much the researcher who specialized in constructing and testing hypotheses.. In the daily life
there was no mention of statistics, no mention of fancy mathematical models. To Smitty the
models that researchers developed would be labeled cognitive mythology or neuro-mythology
(SSS’ terminology), depending upon who was doing the modeling. Simplicity reigned. Simplicity,
in Stevens’ mind, and in the minds of his students, comprised simple relations between
variables. Thus the power function relating ratings of intensity (S) to physical intensity (I) was a
perfect example of the elegant relation between variables: S=kIn (Marks, 1974). Furthermore, it
was the experiment, the empirical act of measurement that was important. To Smitty,
everything else was self-indulgent intellectual play. The laboratory was important, the
laboratory and little else.
5. Nature is regular and lawful; individual differences were disturbing secondary factors, to be
averaged out. In Smitty’s mind, eventually imprinted on his students, one either suppressed
inter-individual variability through exceedingly tight controls, or one averaged out the
variability by running lots of observers through the task. One did not take variability into
account as a signal from nature about individual differences, because it was the group that
counted, not the individual, the so-called nomothetic, rather than the idiographic. It may be
perhaps because people differ so much in what they like that Smitty felt that hedonics was a
waste of good scientific talent, and discouraged the author and others from such intractable
There was one other lesson that we all learned in Smitty’s lab. That was the phrase that I use
even today ‘Validity is a matter of opinion’. The phrase itself is catchy, and to the mind of a 23-year-
old student it didn’t make much sense. The phrase makes a lot more sense today. Smitty wanted to
emphasize the human aspect of science. As rigorous a thinker as he was, as implacable an enemy of
nonsense as he could be, in the end Smitty recognized that truth was subjective. He would use that
phrase at strategic moments, tossing it in to conversations. When he used it, the phrase would exert
a disconcerting effect, as if one did not know what to say next. The phrase still stands, and even
today, more than thirty-five years later, it rings true, and just as disconcerting. It was and remains a
wonderful life lesson from the master to his students.
Harvard psychophysics in the 1960’s was closed end, looking for measures of intensity, and
how those measures might change in mixtures, or as a function of adaptation. Chemoreception was
largely unexplored, although just a decade before Beebe-Center had been working on taste and
smell (Beebe-Center, 1932). Beebe-Center had died some years before. The number of real
psychophysicists in the field could be counted on the fingers of two hands, with fingers to spare.
These psychophysicists included two statesmen in the field, Gosta Ekman in Stockholm and Trygg
Engen in Providence, at Brown University. The younger group, all in their 20’s and 30’s comprised
two at Brown University, Don McBurney and Linda Bartoshuk, just finishing their doctoral theses.
Herb Meiselman had worked with Dzendolet at University of Massachusetts (another bright
Cambridge person, with Harvard psychophysics connections, according to Geraldine “Didi” Stevens,
Smitty’s widow). Dzendolet had studied with both Carl Pfaffmann and with Georg von Bekesy, a
nobel laureate who found a home in Smitty’s Laboratory of Psychophysics. Herb then worked with
Bruce Halpern at Cornell, making him probably the most experienced of the lot, and de facto a
member of Smitty’s extended intellectual family through Dzendolet. All were first-rate
psychophysicists. Smitty suggested that I do work in the chemical senses, specifically taste, or
perhaps in the psychophysics of political opinion. I heard the word taste, realized that not much
was known about it (at least in 1967), and off I went to do research on taste mixtures. The Harvard
years were exciting and frightening… exciting because of the start of a career, frightening because
the psychophysics of the chemical senses were largely unexplored. Terra incognita is always
exciting, and a bit frightening.
One of the keys to science at Harvard was a solid education, preferably in the hard sciences
and mathematics, and less so in the undergraduate psychology curriculum. Another key was hard
work. Anyone who knew the difference between work and play did not belong in Harvard
Psychology, or so went a popular statement attributed to Boring. Psychophysics, according to
Stevens, had to be earned through observing the results of one’s experiments. Never a person to
encourage too much thinking without doing, Smitty continued to aver that anyone who ‘arm-
chaired’ the research, and in a relaxed way went into the lab like a gentleman to confirm the
hypothesis simply did not belong in the field. Psychophysics and the laws of nature had to be dug
with one’s hands, the more effort the better. Nothing so empowered the scientist as having a
general education that encouraged inquiry; to think about the research, and then to understand
what one observed. Nothing so ennobled as doing the experiment. Hard work, plotting the data,
thinking about the results, was the only way to become a scientist. All of us were in the laboratory at
all hours of the day and night, running subjects, plotting data, thinking. It was a frightening time,
working in the shadow of Smitty, with the weight of psychophysics figuratively present at all times,
with figures such as Georg von Bekesy of Nobel Prize fame and E.G. Boring, both aging luminaries,
walking about the laboratory. But it was exciting. They were the old generation. We few were the
A lot of one’s education comes from happenstance occurrences. I had become friendly with
Larry Erlbaum, then a sales rep for Academic Press. Larry would later begin his own very successful
publishing business, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, but in those years like the rest of us he was
hungry to drum up business. During Larry’s periodic visits to Harvard Psychology we got to chat,
and he gave me some free books with the promise that I would give him a chance to publish my first
book (!). One of the ‘freebies’ was the first issue of Journal of Mathematical Psychology, whose
leading article was on conjoint measurement (Luce & Tukey, 1964). Another, some time later, when
I was working on taste psychophysics, was the Amerine, Pangborn & Roessler book ‘Principles Of
Sensory Evaluation Of Food” (1965). That book was initially interesting because it comprised a
meticulous library of references, always a hallmark of Rose Marie Pangborn’s scholarship. It would
later be interesting because it constituted a snapshot of sensory analysis when the field was new,
bursting with untested ideas, and still compact enough that one person could encompass it all.
Reading the book was not easy, because the writing style left much to be desired, but the content
was wonderful. In all, these two gifts presaged what has turned out to be a life-long interest in the
field of sensory analysis and chemosensory psychophysics.
My particular interest in that time was on taste mixtures. Framed within the psychophysics
tradition, and having little knowledge other than what I had learned in the previous two years, I
selected the area of sensory mixtures in chemoreception. The question was very simple – would the
value of the power function exponent for a single tastant (e.g., the saltiness of sodium chloride)
change when the tastant was assessed in the presence of another taste (e.g., the sweetness provided
by a constant concentration of sucrose)? Since the Psychophysics Laboratory emphasized short,
tight experiments, mine comprised eight taste mixtures per session; each rated twice by magnitude
estimation, and twice by cross-modal matching to the loudness of white noise. Every night I would
complete one experiment. Getting observers meant dragging my fellow graduate students and
friends into the laboratory. Good training for later life. At the conclusion of the experiment I would
rush to plot the data in log-log coordinates, compute the median from the 20 ratings (10 observers
– that seemed to be the irreducible minimum), and estimate the slope. As nature became
increasingly regular my relief was palpable. The first experiments were emotionally tough. The
later experiments, following along the same lines, were easier, even though the activities in the
experiments were exactly the same. I was being formed, day-by-day, into a junior scientist, all alone,
confronting nature in a graduate student sort of way. Little did I know that this area of mixtures, of
all sorts, would become the research topic of a lifetime. In Stevens’ world, the thesis was one’s
practical introduction to life, part of the training that would soon finish, and lead to a life-long
education. The thesis simply taught the craft of research, in a splendid, isolated, almost monastic
way. Life would be the teacher of substance, of fact, of the specifics. Smitty was so correct.
Natick Laboratories, The Early 1970’s, And the Awakening Of Psychophysics
Sensory analysis in the late 1960’s and the start of the 1970’s was not particularly
sophisticated. Most of the research and practice was done among experts, probably because there
was a heritage from the 1940’s pioneering effort of the Arthur D. Little Company in the field of
expert panels and flavor description (Caul, 1957). By the late 1960’s, however, interest was
growing in how people responded to products. The US Army Quartermaster Corps in Chicago had
produced the pioneering research efforts of David Peryam and Francis Pilgrim (1957), as well as
other work by Howard Schutz (1965). These efforts ceased in the early 1960’s, when the
Quartermaster Corps was disbanded, and moved to Natick Laboratories, just outside of Boston (see
Meiselman & Schutz, 2003 for a history).
There was great intellectual ferment in those days in applied sensory analysis, and an
openness to new ideas that would later close off in the 1970’s, only to re-emerge in the 1990’s.
Psychophysical thinking was becoming more prevalent, as a number of psychophysicists received
their Ph.D. Notable among these were Drs. Herbert Meiselman, Linda Bartoshuk, Donald McBurney
and David Smith in taste, and Dr. William Cain in smell. The author was among this early group of
researchers, some of whom came with world views adopted from biology and physiology, others
with world views adopted from psychology, and still others with world views adopted from
mathematics and engineering.
What excites a new Ph.D? Certainly the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were heady times.
Psychophysics was being recognized as a backbone for sensory research. Natick gave a home and
an appreciation, with colleagues and visitors. There were lots of things to be discovered. The
excitement of sharing ideas and lunches with Linda Bartoshuk and Herbert Meiselman, both
colleagues in those early years was matched by the eagerness for doing experiments. We often
joked over lunch that were a bomb to fall on us, 30% or more of the chemosensory psychophysics
world would disappear.
It seems now, 40+ years later, that what is most exciting is the opportunity to do new things
that will attract interest and validate oneself. Certainly there was little the interest at that time by
food companies in applying psychophysics to sensory issues. Yet, there was some glimmering
recognition by certain companies, such as Campbell Soup and General Foods, that this
chemosensory psychophysics might provide something useful. Representatives from food
companies would visit Natick, with Linda, Herb and myself asked to talk with them. Linda would
leave a year later for Europe and then the John B. Pierce Foundation. Herb and I would, however,
remain, and excitedly greet many of the corporate visitors. I would leave in 1975 to go into the
commercial world, but Armand Cardello, Owen Maller, Richard Popper and a host of others would
later join, to keep the Natick culture alive and thriving.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Natick funded a great deal of psychophysics research.
We scientists at Natick had the best of all worlds then – free to do what was interesting, not
particularly hampered by the need to write funding grants, and at the center of a developing field
where it seemed that everywhere we stepped there were golden nuggets to be had for the asking.
Giving this opportunity to young psychophysicists, and confronting them now and again with
practical issues faced by the food industry, proved to be a glorious cauldron for bubbling minds and
enthusiasms. The laboratory was abuzz with research. Many of us went to conferences, talked with
other scientists, and with the inevitable cadre of business people. Our research may have been
relatively simplistic and naïve by today’s standards, but for the chemical senses it was
breakthrough then. Taste and smell had long been ignored as the lower senses, and here we were,
funded, making discoveries, presenting, publishing, as well as influencing the food and beverage
industries... Issues such as the rules of additivity for sweetness, the qualities of odorant mixtures,
the psychophysical assessment of both model systems and systematically varied foods, all were
addressed during this period, and found their way into the literature. Some of the more vexing
problems in chemosensory psychophysics also emerged during this period and remained as f
challenges for several decades. They still remain challenges, although not as daunting. These
include the quality and hedonics of taste mixtures and smell mixtures, respectively.
Hedonics – The Real “Pay Dirt”
Sometimes in a scientist’s life the most interesting problems emerge at the very start, and
remain interesting for a lifetime, challenging the scientist each step of the way to address them with
the latest methods, latest analytical techniques, and latest world-views. I hesitate to write here that
overused word zeitgeist, although that’s what it really is. That most variable of all aspects of the
senses, likes and dislikes, became for the author a leitmotif in research, continuing to emerge, re-
emerge, change key, change melody a little, but return again and again to challenge. Perhaps each
young scientist has a calling for a specific set of research topics that resonates within, that is ‘just
right’ and appropriate for the person. Mine was hedonics. I had wanted to do my thesis on liking,
ever since reading Beebe-Center’s classic book, the Psychology Of Pleasantness and Unpleasantness
(1932). It didn’t particularly help the cause that Smitty and Beebe-Center had known each other,
that Smitty thought of Beebe-Center as a gentleman scientist, and that Smitty, like Boring before
him, deemed the very notion of pleasure inappropriate for a real psychophysicist. The goal of
serious research, in Smitty’s terms, was to seek the invariance in nature, and to dispose of
variability, especially hedonic variability, as a nuisance factor to be averaged out by running the
correct number of respondents.
In the end, hedonics would have to wait, for approximately two weeks after the Ph.D. oral
examination. I began serious thinking and research about likes and dislikes on February 2, 1969,
one day after I arrived at Natick. It helped that the U.S. Army was interested in food acceptance, for
that provided a wonderful home in which to do the hedonics research. Harry Jacobs, then head of
the Behavioral Sciences Group, was eminently supportive, as would be Linda and Herb. Indeed,
hedonics and psychophysics were only just being explored by Trygg Engen at Brown, and by Gosta
Ekman in Stockholm. It looked like there would be scientific pay dirt. Subsequent experiences in
science and business would prove that intuition correct, again and again.
Perhaps the important thing about hedonics to a psychophysicist is that it obeys a lawful
function, at least in the aggregate. The relation follows an inverted U shaped curve, ascribed to
Wilhelm Wundt in the 1870’s, and rediscovered by various researchers over the years, such as
Engel in the 1920’s Germany (Engel, 1928), and later by Ekman in Sweden (Ekman & Akesson,
1964). The nicely behaved relation appeals to the psychophysicist, and whether the relation is an
inverted U curve or an inverted V curve (see Conner & Booth, 1992) makes less difference than the
lawfulness. Psychophysicists can do many things with lawful relations, such as look at the change in
the parameters of these relations under different test conditions, different physiological conditions,
and even variations from person to person. Certainly from this researcher’s efforts it appeared that
Smitty’s intractable hedonics would indeed allow itself to be somewhat tamed in the interests of
science. It was quite a heady experience to see the same curve appear, again and again, for
sweeteners, always peaking at approximately the same subjective sweetness level (~ 10% glucose).
Indeed, as Donald ‘Jock’ MacKay from the Lifesavers Corporation would later tell me over a drink at
a conference, this sweetness is about the ambient sweetness in the mouth when a person chews a
fresh stick of bubble gum! When industry figures confirmed their interest in hedonics with such
comments I knew there was something there beyond the novice’s interest in something to grab
onto, and anchor his career. There was something concrete, whose form would take years to
Three Facets Of Psychophysics
We often think of psychophysics as a fixed set of approaches, founded in the early days of
experimental psychology by Gustav Theodor Fechner (1860), and then relegated to the textbooks.
However, psychophysics is a living, breathing entity that has at least three major applications today,
each of which is relevant to the sensory researcher doing applied work. Psychophysics, when
viewed in this way never remains dull, but rather becomes exciting, pulling the young student and
the researcher into itself, to learn more and to experiment. Psychophysics becomes alive when we
realize it can be used for powerful insights in at least three ways:
1. A tool to study the senses
2. A tool to study the product
3. A tool to study the distribution of individual differences
Psychophysics studies the senses: At Harvard the goal of research was to understand how the
senses work. Psychophysics was a valuable tool in this regard; it gave numbers that could be used
to build relations between the physical stimulus and the rated perceptual intensity. Whether the
numbers actually conformed to a ratio scale, as Stevens had suggested, appears in hindsight to be a
second-order issue. Stevens’ approach, called magnitude estimation, allowed the subject to be a
measuring instrument. The real value was that the subject produced numbers that were directly
Research using magnitude estimation to quantify perceived intensity showed that there
were differences in the rate of change of this perceived intensity with stimulus level across
the different continua of taste, smell, loudness, brightness, roughness, etc.
Furthermore, one could use this tool to study changes in body state such as hunger, satiety,
weight loss (Rodin, Moskowitz & Bray, 1976; Thompson, Campbell & Moskowitz, 1978) or
pathology such as brain damage (Jones, Butters, Moskowitz & Montgomery, 1978), with the
psychophysics dealing either with ratings of hedonics or ratings of perceived intensity.
Finally, in studies of mixtures the psychophysical approach shows how the sensory system
combines information from different physical stimuli, either of the same or of different
qualities, into a resultant sensory percept.
The big success in psychophysics in scaling perceived intensity has been followed by
success in modeling the sensory intensities of mixtures. Psychophysics as a method to study
the senses has yet a long way to go to study sensory quality of mixtures, however. It is
impossible for the most part for psychophysical methods to tell us the expected sensory
profile of an odor mixture from knowing the qualities of the components of that mixture
(Moskowitz, 1976; Moskowitz, Dubose & Reuben, 1977).). This area of psychophysics
remains a fertile one for exploration.
Psychophysics to study the product: Corporations are interested in their products, and the person-
product interaction. The corporations use psychophysics regularly as a bioassay mechanism. Thus,
studies of taste mixtures for the corporation focus on the implications for the formulation. When
the corporate scientist understands the laws of sweetness mixtures, say for two artificial
sweeteners, it becomes a straightforward task to mix sweeteners in order to produce a constant
level of sweetness, an acceptably low level of off-taste, and so at a desired cost of goods. The
consequence of this knowledge, achievable only by psychophysics, is the ability to better engineer
products (Moskowitz, 1979; Moskowitz, Wolfe & Beck, 1978).
It is no surprise, therefore, that at conferences such as the Pangborn conference, applied
psychophysics has many papers devoted to it. It is probably this use of psychophysics that
has breathed really new life into the field, at least in terms of applications. In the 1960’s and
1970’s, one rarely saw advertisements for corporate jobs in sensory analysis and market
research that breathed a word about psychophysics. Today, however, corporations are
aware of this power of psychophysics to provide the needed understanding of how we
perceive products, and the advertisements often call for a working knowledge of
psychophysics. Stevens’ final 1975 book, Psychophysics: An Introduction To Its Perceptual,
Neural, And Social Prospects, might have also had the word ‘business’ or ‘commercial’
prospects in the title with good justification.
Psychophysics to study individual differences: Psychophysicists had traditionally studied individual
differences at the threshold level, perhaps because of the early belief that the person could not act
as a valid measuring instrument. Modern psychophysics changed that, and allowed the researcher
to use the respondent as a measuring tool, taking into account the ratings assigned as measures of
perceived intensity that could be compared across people. Various transformations had to be made
to ensure that one could compare these ratings, but in the main they were successful, and led to
some breakthrough research.
Linda Bartoshuk’s pioneering work on PROP tasters and individual differences in the
population falls into this class of research that used the new psychophysical approaches
(Bartoshuk, Duffy, Fast, Green, Prutkin & Synder, 2002). These studies of individual
differences help the psychophysicist and thus the scientific community to understand
differences in perception, and difference in food-related behavior.
At the applied end, individual differences in hedonics and especially in the sensory-liking
curve generate different products in the same class. For example, when it comes to orange
juice, one can find juices with and without pulp. This product difference came from
psychophysical observations that there are two categories of consumers worldwide, those
who like the juice more as the pulp increases, and those who dislike the juice (Moskowitz &
In both cases, the Bartoshuk-type research on sensory perceptio, and the hedonics-type
work on optimal sensory levels of a product feature, psychophysical thinking is paramount.
The results point to the nature of individual differences. Only the purposes behind the end-
use differ. Looking back over the history of the past 35 years, the inter-individual variability,
so offensive to Smitty as a secondary disturbing factor in the regularity of nature, may turn
out to have great scientific and practical implications.
Today’s psychophysical thinking should find individual differences research a rewarding
area. A number of first order questions with scientific and practical implications remain to
be answered. At least five questions come to mind immediately, but there are many more:
1. How big are the sensory segments by country?
2. If there are general sensory segments such as individuals who respond more strongly to intense
versus weak stimuli, respectively, then does a person always belong to one of the segments
across all foods so that this becomes an individual ‘style’, or may a person be a member of a low
impact segment for one food and a high impact segment for another food?
3. Is the segmentation inherited within a family, and can it be traced to physiological correlates?
4. Do people know what segments to which they belong, or must they discover this empirically
5. Do people in a segment, such as high impact, respond to messages that emphasize aspects of
that segmentation (e.g., high impact responding to messages about heat), or is there no link
between patterns of sensory preference and responsiveness to concepts?
Evolving fields, changing directions, and the marathon that is science
Nothing stays static. In the late 1960’s, with chemoreception research comprising a handful
of people from psychophysics, physiology, and industry, many of us knew each other, met at
conferences, and exchanged ideas. As noted above, one could trip over first order problems. They
abounded. The Association of Chemoreception Scientists was formed (ACHEMS), there were
various symposia devoted to different aspects of chemoreception, and the field of psychophysics
played a major role in all of them. The different professionals welcomed psychophysical thinking,
probably because the direct scaling methods that Stevens had propounded provided a way to
understand aspects of perception that could be correlated to the measures made by the other
scientists (e.g., direct measures of chorda tympani response to tastants; Borg, Diamant, Strom &
The halcyon days of the early 1970’s filled with promise began to evolve, marked by
conferences and journals, and surprising by a nascent interest by corporations. ACHEMS,
populated by psychophysicists in the early days, and an outgrowth of informal meetings held
around the Eastern Psychological Association meetings, soon was given over to papers dealing with
the biochemical aspects of taste and smell. Psychophysical thinking evolved, and migrated into
other fields. Food and flavor researchers at companies soon adopted the psychophysical methods,
and an increasing number of meetings would feature psychophysical thinking.
In the mid 1970’s and beyond, the applications of psychophysics to practical problems were
becoming increasingly clearer. At least four of these applications are worth mentioning:
1. Studies of mixtures, especially sweetener mixtures, became increasingly important for beverage
companies, looking to work in the diet area. This work carries over today.
2. Studies on the taste of salt started coming into focus, not as strongly as those of sweeteners. The
interest here was more on the possibility of using psychophysical thinking to help formulate
reduced salt foods. Campbell Soup Company was a leader here.
3. Fragrance and flavor companies began intensive research in applied psychophysics, after
decades of strict interest in chemistry. It became far more fashionable in the late 1970’s and
1980’s to promote one’s capabilities in psychophysics as a way to support one’s sale of
fragrance and flavor compounds. Thus the growing interest by such companies as IFF and
Monsanto Flavor Essence in what psychophysics could do.
4. Sensory analysis departments in companies began to turn away from classical psychophysics in
favor of expert panels and descriptive analysis systems (Stone, Sidel, Oliver, Woolsey &
Singleton, 1974). This heritage and worldview, evolving as it did from the point of view of the
Flavor Profile and the use of experts (Caul, 1957) held sway in food companies for almost two
decades. Psychophysics began to disappear from the field of sensory analysis for about 10-15
years. As is the case with every aspect of science, the pendulum swings one way and then back.
The field of sensory analysis was later to return to a new appreciation of psychophysics as
researchers in sensory analysis and students began to merge different aspects of
psychophysics, traditional sensory analysis, and mathematical modeling. We can trace this re-
emergence of psychophysics to the first Pangborn Conference in Finland, where
chemoreception researchers in psychophysics participated in relatively large numbers.
When one works in the commercial world and is accountable for both sales and profits, it is
natural that one’s attention turns to research areas that promise ongoing business. Psychophysical
thinking by 1980 had allowed the author to establish a business, and to demonstrate the use of the
approaches for product development. The next challenge was to identify new vistas, and then move
into different applications. Perhaps this is the typical maturation which inevitably befalls all
scientists. As the scientist matures there may be an increase in the range of interests, and a letting
go of the rigid adherence to a point of view.
For the author this mid-course correction came in the 1980’s, as a result of business
demands and intellectual curiosity. Looking back, there seemed to be four clear vistas:
1. How to make sense of disparate stimuli. Most classically trained psychophysicists are
accustomed to working with a systematically varied stimulus; control of the stimulus properties
is given to the researcher. The implicit objective is to understand the senses. To undertand,, the
researcher must be able to manipulate the external environment. When psychophysics
approaches the external environment it has no control over the stimuli in the environment, and
it is fruitless to maintain the psychophysical purity of stimulus control. Either the researcher
throws up his hands and withdraws to the quiet solitude of the laboratory where he is master,
or changes his focus to work with naturally varying stimuli. This uncontrolled variation is a
stumbling block when one wants to understand how sensory characteristics drive liking, for
disparate, unrelated but substitutable stimuli (e.g. different meats). In 1977 the author had
developed the now well known ‘category appraisal’ method to deal with just this problem
(Moskowitz, 1984), albeit in a business situation. The issue was to deal with a variety of
different beverages of the same type (lemon), but from different manufacturers. With the
advent of the Apple II+ computer in 1980, it became possible to run quadratic equations
relating the level of a sensory attribute to overall liking, leading to the renewed importance of
Wundt’s inverted U-shaped curve. This approach to hedonics with either systematically varied
or off-the-shelf products led, in turn, to analyses of what sensory attributes ‘drive liking’
2. How to ‘reverse engineer’ – create a product with a desired sensory or image profile. The very
practical problems of product development can often be handled by experimental design,
where the product is systematically varied, tested by consumers and ratings analyzed to create
a model. This is conventional psychophysical thinking applied to products. Earl Sugling had
posed the reverse issue in 1976, when at Block Drug Company. Earl, head of R&D, wanted to
identify the specific features of a product corresponding to a specific image profile. It would
take a decade to solve this ‘reverse engineering’ problem in a general fashion for both stimuli
that were systematically varied, and stimuli that were purchased off the shelf and studied in the
category appraisal method. Ultimately, however, the modeling would lead to a different form of
psychophysics, really more psychophysical inspired product engineering inspired by classical
psychophysics itself (Moskowitz, 1994, 1999). The approach has led to re-thinking the
psychophysical problem as one of relating profiles in one domain to profiles in another. In turn,
this thinking has allowed researchers to estimate the likely profile of consumer responses,
given profiles obtained from machines or from expert panelists.
3. How do ideas combine - the psychophysics of ideas (concepts). As a rule psychophysicists have
not delved deeply into cognitive problems beyond scaling, although cognitive processes are
beginning to attract the psychophysicist’s attention. In the 1950’s – 1980’s most
psychophysicists stayed close to home, working on problems of sensory perception. The field
was quite homogeneous in the range of interests. However, when one goes into industry it
becomes necessary to apply skills to new problems. One of these problems was to identify the
utility values of concept elements, such as brand name, price, benefit, to the consumer, etc.
These elements could be rated singly, and thus a rank order established. This would not
indicate how elements performed in a single concept, however. Conjoint analysis was the more
appropriate method; conjoint analysis combined experimental design and modeling, both at the
heart of psychophysical thinking (Green & Srinivasan, 1981). Approaching the problem of
identifying the utility values was akin to approaching mixtures in the chemical senses, except
that the elements were either present/or absent in the concept, and did not vary by known
levels. An early opportunity with Colgate presented itself in 1980, when the general manager,
the late Court Shepard, asked whether it would be possible to use the psychophysical approach
on concepts. The key difference was that with Court Shepard’s original problem there were
some 307 elements to work with! With the help of some editing we quickly reduced that to
about 100 or so elements, and then using the rudimentary spreadsheet and statistical packages
available for the Apple II+ (Visicalc®, ELF, Econometric Linear Forecasting® from Rosen
Grandon Associates, Inc.), we created the design, ensured that the elements were reasonably
independent of each other, created dummy data, ran the dummy data to ensure that the
approach would work, and proceeded on our way to run a set of studies for Court Shepard, and
later for many others. That opportunity led to an expansion of psychophysical thinking into the
realm of concepts, which has remained strong even today. The research design was inspired by
psychophysical studies of mixtures. A bit later, even the sensory preference segmentation that
had been developed using an extension of Wundt’s observation about the inverted U curve,
found its application in concept research. In the end the psychophysical thinking would lead to
fundamental advances in concept testing and optimization, such as IdeaMap® (Moskowitz &
Martin, 1993). These branded technologies are still in use today, and remain workhorses for
scientific and for business- oriented studies.
4. From products to concepts, and now to packages Psychophysical thinking is seductive, and can
be all encompassing. During the years just after working at Natick Laboratories, when the
author was first exposed to package design, much of the research was done by simply looking at
packages and having consumers rate them. The approach was similar to product and concept
research, prior to the widespread use of experimental design. In the middle 1980’s, however, it
became obvious after experience with concepts that package design could be treated in the
same way, much to the shock and chagrin of some individuals who felt that package design was
an art, not a science. One could systematically vary the features of the package design, overlay
them, get responses from observers, and then estimate what each component contributed. That
work, originally done manually with a limited set of combinations, has now been entirely
computerized, making the package design research far easier to conceptualize (Bernstein &
Moskowitz, 2003; Moskowitz, Reisner, Lawlor & Deliza, 2009).
Mind Genomics: The micro-views of everyday experience using psychophysical thinking
During the 1990’s research with both products and concepts revealed that powerful
insights that could be obtained from the patterns of responses, at first patterns from products, later
patterns from concepts. Knowledge from patterns was a dream in the 1970’s; in those early days
this dream was realized quite painfully in the business community. The science behind knowledge
from patterns was clear. From responses to many products or concepts one could quickly identify
patterns such as what types of sensory characteristics drove liking, what types of basic sensory
preferences there exist in the population, and what general types of messages drive interest in
The computer and information revolutions of the late 1990’s changed the psychophysical
way of thinking.. The structure of thought imprinted on the author as a young psychophysicist,
however, never faded. What happened, however, was that it became increasingly easy to obtain
data, especially with concepts. The conjoint measurement task so arduously executed in 1980 at the
behest of Court Shepard, with manual creation of combinations, and painful testing among
consumers, became almost automatic. The author developed a self-authoring conjoint
measurement system, in which one needed only to type in the elements and the classification. The
computer and the Internet would do the rest. One could run 1000 observers in one six hour period,
and have the data fully tabulated by total, key subgroups and even concept response segments
((Moskowitz, Gofman, Itty, Katz, Machaiah, & Ma, 2001).). The results would be available the next
morning at 5 AM. Furthermore, one could set up a bank of three dozen parallel studies, all similar
in nature, but dealing with different foods, beverages, shopping situations, present this wall to
thousands of respondents, have each respondent choose a study, and in 48 hours run 6,000
respondents on 30 studies, with the data fully analyzed and available.
The increase in computing power produced in its wake a different approach to
psychophysics than was possible before, albeit one working with concepts rather than with
products. The objective of this new cognitive psychophysics is to relate concepts to products, and
vice-versa. With the reach afforded by the Internet and the computing power afforded by self-
authoring conjoint measurement, the stage was set for two different types of studies.
Set 1 – ‘First Principles’ Studies: The objective here was to understand how the mind organizes
concept stimuli, much as regular psychophysics looks for the way the mind organizes the outside
world into sensory percepts. In a first principle study the researcher begins with a set of fixed
concept elements, denoting product features, product benefits, ways that the product is made,
emotional statements about product use, etc. There are some 36 of these, principally because the
self-authoring system was designed with four variables, and nine options each. The frst principle
study also uses a large-scale classification questionnaire. Furthermore, there are a variety of end
uses, and emotions, each presented as a question. An example for coffee might be this set of end
uses (Cappuccio, Krieger, Katz, Itty, & Moskowitz, 2002).
1. How well does this concept fit to a coffee you would have at Starbucks?
2. How well does this concept fit a product for a happy person?
3. How well does this concept fit to Taster’s Choice?
4. How well does this concept fit an expensive product?
There can be up to 20-40 of these end-uses which turn into rating attributes.. Each statement is a
rating question, and has its own study. For coffee, for example, there are some 26 of these
statements or rating questions, some dealing with fit to brand name, some dealing with fit to
emotion, others with fit to a social situation.
The respondent is guided to a wall. The wall presents the respondent with the 26 different
studies, each denoted by a two or three word phrase. The respondent selects a study, and evaluates
60 concepts, created from the 36 elements by means of experimental design. Following the conjoint
approach, each concept is short, comprising 2-4 elements (either one or no elements from each of
the four silos). The specific experimental design varies from person to person, to ensure that there
is no particular combination that may perform unusually well or poorly, simply by accident. The
respondent rates the combination, assigning the rating based upon his understanding of the rating
question (e.g., how well does this coffee concept fit a product for a happy person). One does not
know the meaning of the question, except by virtue of the respondent’s ratings. At the end of the
evaluation, and on an individual level, the computer program creates the individual model. Some
elements fit the rating question better than other elements. From the respondent’s ratings, one
identifies which specific elements drive the fit. A set of 26 of these studies for different aspects of
coffees produces a clear profile of what different words mean in terms of end-uses.
The psychophysical thinking is clear here, although the execution is radically different from
the psychophysics introduced by Stevens. The difference is that the stimuli are cognitive and
descriptive, rather than physical and sensed, although one might at some point do the same thing
with mixtures of physical product variables, or even mixtures of concept statements and physical
The scientific outcome of the first principles studies is a clearer sense of how the mind
organizes the concept stimuli to fit an end use, much as classical psychophysics looks at how the
mind interprets the stimulus when one subjectively estimates an attribute such as ‘intensity.’. The
applied outcome of these first principle studies is a prescription for new product ideas, based upon
fit to an end use. Psychophysics has also come around full circle. Whereas the early researchers
looked at it as a study of how the mind organized the world of sensation, and later researchers
looked at it as a study of sensory processes with little emphasis on the mind, the first principle
studies go back to the mind. The studies reveal how the mind organizes the world of concept
elements, and in a figurative way, aspects of the cognitive representations of sensory experiences.
Set 2 – The It! Foundation Studies: During the spring of 2001, when the self-authoring conjoint
technology was being perfected from an operations viewpoint, I was challenged quite
independently at a conference to identify the features of products that produced a perception of
craveability. It was hard to answer that question. However, with Jacqueline Beckley and Hollis
Ashman of the Understanding and Insight Group, it appeared possible to try the large scale first
principles studies, but in a slightly different format. As a group we came up with the idea of creating
a set of linked studies, 30 altogether, dealing with foods such as of hamburger, BBQ ribs, nuts,
chocolate, etc. Each study would be of the same form – namely four silos of nine elements each, each
element of the 36 having its own raison d’être (e.g., brand name, simple description vs. more
elaborate description of the product, emotion, etc.). We created a template, listing the nature of the
element, and filled in that template with the 36 elements appropriate for the food. For the first
study, Crave It!, we had some 6 brand names, and obviously each of the foods would have its own
set of brands. Even the brand names varied, however, from the most expensive to the least
expensive. We also had a very large-scale classification questionnaire, dealing with attitudes
towards the food, reasons for purchase etc. We ran the study, following the same ‘wall approach’ as
we did for the first principles studies. A respondent was free to choose whichever study he or she
wanted, although as in the first principles studies the study automatically closed up once the pre-
set number of respondents completed it. The rating question was simply ‘how much do you crave
this <product name>’ (Beckley & Moskowitz, 2002).
From this foundational study we rapidly began to understand how the mind organizes its
perception of the different foods, what features drive craveability for different foods, the role of
statements about product features versus brands, etc. In essence we had re-created the category
appraisal method, and brought psychophysical thinking again into the area of concepts.
Various discoveries lay in wait for us. The most important discovery was repeatable
segments. Emerging segments for craveability were the ‘Elaborates’ who responded strongly to
product descriptions; the ‘Classics’ who wanted their products simple and traditional; and the
‘Imaginers’ who responded to other statements of a non-food nature. These segments appeared in
food after food. We also found that we could look at self-defined body state to see how it affected
the response to concept elements. In a sense we had the chance to invent a new version of cognitive
psychophysics. Finally, the approach was expanded to included adults, teens, Americans and
Europeans (Luckow, Aarts & Moskowitz, 2003). Eventually we applied the foundation study
principle to creating databases about beverages (Drink It!™), and then to the shopping experience
(Buy It! ™), and finally to both social and personal problems (Deal With It! ™) and to charities and
non-profit giving (Give It!™). These databases have been discussed in a variety of publications, and
provide continuing inspiration to move on with the blend of psychophysics and cognition
(Moskowitz & Ashman, 2003).
Looking back at the development of the foundation studies and the first principle studies,
we can see that it was influenced in part by the psychophysical way of thinking, partly by the
genomics revolution which seeks to find the way the genetic system of an individual drives
expression of characteristics (Moskowitz, German & Saguy, 2003). We were on our way, towards
the genome of the mind, using psychophysical thinking as an organizing principle. Smitty had been
right again. We had gone from perceptual to social prospects, as if the path had been laid for us
decades before, waiting for someone to travel it.
Advice to the young researcher
With this short recounting of one’s education, work history, attempts failed, attempts
succeeded, what can one say to the next generation? Should there even be a coda such as advice to a
young researcher, or something as trite as that. Casting caution to the winds, here are nine life
1. Go for first order problems, within your scope. Smitty was fond of this. In his view, it wasn’t
worth spending time on problems other than first order. The advice rings true today. How to
recognize a first order problem – well that in itself is a topic that is harder to discuss than
proffering advice. I’ll refrain from identifying a first order problem. However, if it is
passionately discussed, argued, and has potential to grow into a meaningful life work, it has
potential to be a first order problem.
2. Don’t specialize too early. Too many of today’s young scientists specialize early, becoming
masters of a technique before they have a chance to mature. Maybe it’s easier to survive when
one specializes because one can be a colleague among equals. However, specializing too early
stops one from developing to the fullest potential.
3. Know the literature, but dream also. A lot of researchers spend months putting their research
into the perspective of what everyone else has done. This is reasonable, but sometimes they fail
to dream. They become so tightly wound up in being politically correct that the strictures of the
scientific literature shackle their creativity.
4. Learn to write, and to type. Smitty was fond of saying that when his aunt asked him what he did
at Harvard he answered that he taught writing. It helps to write. Writing is a skill. It forces one
to organize the thoughts and defend them. Aim for clarity and simplicity. If the words flow
smoothly you’ve written well. If you stop for a moment, then the sentence is probably awkward,
and maybe your thought is awkward as well. Learn to type—which in today’s environment is no
problem. Typing t helps you create more quickly, and produce prettier manuscripts. There is
nothing so reinforcing as to have a pretty draft each time coming from the computer printer.
5. Study mathematics. You don’t have to become an expert, a mathematical whiz. There is,
however, something magical about mathematics. Mathematics forces you to think in a
structured way. In my case I think in equations. I have a very hard time thinking graphically,
except in two dimensions, and really don’t understand how to use multidimensional maps of
stimuli. Calculus has been of inordinate value, however. Calculus helps me formulate relations
between variables, and formalize issues such as reverse engineering, rates of change (for
drivers of liking), and similar issues. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that I owe a
great deal of my career to Dr Herman’s advice at Queens College to study mathematics. Smitty
said it as well – study math.
6. Network, not for jobs, but to polish your mind. It helps to meet other people. The really sincere
young scientist will find that this forces discussion of new ideas. Network with people smarter
than yourself. Networking pays out because you find out quickly whether you are working on
meaningful problems or second order ones.
7. Publish, publish, publish. Don’t worry about creating the article that will shake the world. You
won’t, not at first. Publishing is a skill, and like writing, produces a well-exercised mind. Let
your ideas out in front of everyone. All they can do is say you are wrong. Eventually what you
publish will become better and better. If you don’t get into the habit of writing and then
publishing you don’t get into the habit of disciplined thinking.
8. Dare to break the rules and live your vision. Science is a self-correcting system. You can’t
destroy it by being original and doing what you believe in. Some people feel that a good
scientist obeys the rules, writes the way it is appropriate to write, and does experiments in a
formal manner. For this scientist, that’s all poppycock. Science is passion, a love of knowledge,
and a desire to find structure in nature. Paraphrasing the words of E.G. Boring, anyone who can
separate out his or her life and passion from that of scientific exploration probably doesn’t
really belong in the field. That more disciplined individual is probably playing at science, not
9. Most of all, do science for love. In Smitty’s mind and in mine, life is too short, too precious to
waste searching only for money. We have a limited amount of time available. Science is a
consuming passion. Money does come, but beyond a reasonable living it’s a lot more fun doing
what you like.
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Sensory Science and Market Research: Twins separated at birth?
Based upon a paper delivered to the Institute of Food Technologists, July, 2010
The business of food, consumed for nutrition and health, but chosen because of sensory
pleasure, strongly relies upon solid, scientific, valid, and usable information about consumer
reactions. When we look at the history of subjective measurement in the world of food, we are
struck immediately by an anomaly. The anomaly is the existence and actual flourishing of two
groups of professionals which, apparently, do the same job, finding out what consumers like. One
group calls themselves sensory analysts (or sensory professionals, sensory practitioners, and so
forth). The second group calls themselves market researchers (or consumer researchers, consumer
insights, and so forth). Whereas the actual names are irrelevant, what is relevant for this chapter is
the reality that in the world of food, at least, there is this ongoing duality; two groups of people
doing the same job in the same corporation.
Both sensory analysis and market research are entrusted with the job of being the
company’s eyes and ears, at least with respect to the consumer. And so, these two groups go about
their daily business trying to do a good job. Sometimes, they succeed. Sometimes, they fail. They
often fight. However, in recent years they’ve learned to play together.
How did this all happen? What’s the history of the field that led to these two disciplines,
these two twins, perhaps conjoined at birth, with such different world views, contenders for the
corporate blessings? And just as important, what does the future look like, especially in a world of
hyper-competition, and ever-increasing sophistication of research methods?
Early roots – sensory enjoyment as a business-driver
We don’t see two worlds of professionals, sensory and market research, except in those
applied areas which deal with the lower senses, taste, smell and touch, respectively. Certainly,
there are many products and services which invoke the senses of seeing and hearing, but they don’t
present us with the same type of history as do the worlds of food and drink and, somewhat later,
health and beauty aids.
The reason is quite simple. The chemical senses, taste and smell and, to a far lesser extent
touch, produce sensory experience on the one hand, and pleasure on the other, respectively. It is
fair to say that the role of sensory and consumer research for food and fragrance is to ensure that
the products which drive the sensory experiences remain pleasurable during consumption. That is,
there is a strong economic incentive to provide the consumer with a pleasurable experience while
they are consuming the product, whether the consumption is actually eating/drinking the
food/beverage or smelling the fragrance.
Touch generates pleasure as well, albeit not to the same degree. The focus of sensory and
market research on touch is there, but the role is not quite as dramatic. We don’t find seeing and
hearing associated as much with pleasurable sensory experiences as we do for taste and smell and,
occasionally, for touch. Of course, sensory and market researchers are quite knowledgeable in the
measurement of visual and auditory aspects of products and experience. Yet, we don’t see extensive
checklists of questions and the very long evaluation ballots for appearance and sound that we see
for food and fragrance. The reason again is that these sensory experiences, seeing and hearing, are
more associated with information rather than with enjoyment. Studying them is simpler, more to
the point. That impish rogue, pleasure, doesn’t make its appearance, confounding everything.
The bottom line, or at least one bottom line, as to why the fields of sensory analysis and
market research got started is to help business maintain the pleasure of product consumption, in
whichever way the practitioner chose to define that ‘pleasure.’
In the beginning – only one group, one corporate function, and poorly defined at that
Historically, the business of those businesses that manufacture and sell products is to make
a profit. It should come as no surprise that businesses which deal with sensory pleasure (e.g., food,
beverage, fragrance) recognize that they have to please customers. Today, at the start of the second
decade of this millennium, we have no problem accepting that compelling business requirement.
After all, in a world where companies compete to give their customers more sensory pleasure, it
makes a great deal of sense to know what the customers want. Today it’s obvious; eighty years ago
it wasn’t so obvious at all.
Let’s look back at the early days, at what was happening around 1930. We’re going to have
to reconstruct some of our story using social history, business history and, of course, what we can
reconstruct from the business/science trade journals of the time. If the topic strikes you as
interesting, you might want to look at food and fragrance related trade magazines, such as American
Perfumer, or any of the trade magazines in the food industry of the 1920’s. Perusing them is well
worth the time. Look at the stories and at the ads.
Here are a few of the highlights from the world of sensory science as we can reconstruct it,
looking backwards from today (2011):
1. Practitioners in industry were keenly aware of the importance of measuring sensory responses.
That interest manifested itself in the many different popular articles in the trade magazines.
These articles were not the pop articles of today, written for a mass audience of non-
professionals, but rather articles that took the science of the time and wrote that information in
a way that was both inviting and understandable to the professional who was reading the trade
magazine. The focus of the trade magazine articles was on the ‘then current’ knowledge of the
senses, what was happening, and not on the measurement of sensory responses. There was
really no focus on the measurement of consumer likes and dislikes.
2. The field of hedonics, today’s bread and butter testing, would be left to journal articles. There
were some papers in the journals dealing with odor likes and dislikes (e.g. Kenneth, 1928), as
well as with tastes likes and dislikes (e.g., Engel, 1928). These papers are important, not so
much for their substantive contributions as for where they appeared and which methods they
used. Where they appeared (serious academic journals of hard science, dealing with
physiology) means that there was interest at the time in measurement, although probably not
that of foods as much as that of sensory processes. The methods they used, counting positive
versus negative votes, suggest that the researchers of that time did not believe that the subject
could act as a valid measuring instrument. For a good history of what was known to the food
world, one should read Moncrieff’s classic book, The Chemical Senses (1966), which
summarized it all, or at least the ‘all’ of that time, namely what the food and fragrance
professional would know.
3. The focus on measurement also brought into play instruments; understanding their correlation
with perception would be a major issue for years to come. The growth of sophisticated measures
of food, e.g., texture measuring machines such as the gelometer and the ridgelimeter, signaled
that the science of objective measurement of food characteristics was beginning. Along with
objective science, there had to be subjective measurement of sensory perceptions. Otherwise,
researchers thought, perhaps correctly, perhaps not, that it would be impossible to understand
the basis of sensory perception.
4. Rose Marie Pangborn’s interest in the history of the field would become an invaluable resource. It’s
always good to know the history of one’s field; it shows one where the ideas come from. A good
review of this early history can be found in the now-classic compendium Principles of Sensory
Evaluation of Food written by Amerine, Pangborn and Roessler (1965). Pangborn, herself a
stickler for good methods, was a first rate accumulator of literature, which she summarized in
the book. A decade later, she and Ida Trabue would provide an equally valuable bibliography of
early taste work, in the book Chemical Senses and Nutrition (1967). The bibliography, despite
being a compendium of the literature, is also worth reading because it gives a sense of what was
known about the first hundred years of the field.
And now, here are a few highlights from the world that we now call marketing research or
1. Practitioners began with an interest that reminds us of public opinion research and census
behavior, not psychology. Looking at reports from that period (few remain) suggest that the
researcher was hired to find out what was happening. There does not seem to be much in the
way of literature concerning subjective responses to food. That interest would come later.
2. There certainly wasn’t much of what we would call sensory science or market research around
1930. Arthur (A.C.) Nielsen was hired by the Campbell Soup Company of Camden, New Jersey to
measure consumers’ garbage as a way to understand what products they liked. However,
that’s not relevant for us. The story is, rather, what’s missing. We don’t have stories of the early
users of scales. Perhaps scales are not a good topic for stories. But the real history is that
companies did want to know what people liked. The companies weren’t insensitive; they just
weren’t ‘into’ measuring responses by scales. That’s what is important.
The important effect of World War II and the Quartermaster Corps
Up to now, we have not differentiated in any detail between the sensory analysis world-
view and the consumer-research world-view. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that the scientific and
the business aspects of product evaluation were neither clearly focused nor differentiated. The
fields of sensory analysis and marketing research were just beginning to take shape. During those
early years, they would be distinguished more by individual efforts in specific cases (e.g., testing
alcoholic products) than by a formal history.
Although trade literature before World War II is dotted with the occasional article about
product testing and sensory analysis (e.g., by perfumers, by brewers and so forth), it would take
World War II and the efforts of the U.S. Army, through its Quartermaster Corps, to bring the world
of sensory analysis and product testing its next level of development.
World War II brought with it the recognition that the foods eaten by soldiers had to be both
nutritious and tasty. The economy had moved from subsistence to manufacturing. Soldiers were
accustomed to eating acceptable, processed food. The Quartermaster Corps instituted testing
protocols for those suppliers who wanted to sell food to the U.S. Army. Thus, war drove a lot of
tests of product acceptance (Meiselman & Schutz, 2003).
Of course, the Quartermaster Corps was a military-business concern rather than a scientific
one. In those early days of the field, few people could say honestly that they had much experience in
this newly-emerging capability called ‘product testing’. As a consequence, the Quartermaster Corps
called on resources from industry, which tended not to be ‘business’ per se, but rather the scientists
employed by business. Those who worked on the testing protocols and who did the testing ended
up taking direction from the scientific community, albeit indirectly. That scientific heritage would
remain a hallmark of sensory analysis for decades to come.
Of importance to our history is what did not happen to market research. Market research
was a commercially based endeavor. However, it did not enjoy the push to scientific rigor that
characterized sensory analysis. This lack of scientific rigor would distinguish market research for
decades to come. Whereas sensory analysts, e.g. bench chemists and other scientists, were
accustomed to rigorous testing, marketing researchers who dealt with foods and fragrances were
far less products of science. No significant literature on product evaluation emerged from
marketing research. And, in some ways, in the words of poet Robert Frost (1920), ‘that has made all
Profiling and Testing – The ‘sensory field’ emerges in the aftermath of World War II
World War II ended, but the Quartermaster Corps’ reliance on scientific methods for
evaluating food did not. Out of these efforts emerged the new science of product testing or product
evaluation, which would have a distinct cast from the R&D technical laboratories, rather than from
the business side. That’s because the problems faced by the government may have been business
problems (e.g., is this supplier selling us the food of sufficient quality?), but the answers were
couched in a scientific way, since the analysis was done by scientists.
The history of the field then moved from war to business. In the years just after World War
II, the division into R&D - oriented sensory evaluation and business - oriented product testing
would slowly take shape. As in any movement, there aren’t any distinct markers that tell us
‘sensory analysis has been born’. Just like nothing signaled to us ‘it’s the Middle Ages’, nothing tells
us about the birth of the field.
Reading the extant literature, one gets a sense of a new ‘something’ brewing around the end
of the war. Articles began appearing in the trade literature dealing with a strange new approach
called ‘descriptive analysis. At the Arthur D. Little Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded
by scientist Arthur D. Little decades before, a group of food experts developed a method by which to
identify the different notes of a business process they called the Flavor Profile (Caul, 1957). What
concerns us here is not specifics, but rather the history, as shown by articles such as Cairncrosss
and Sjostrom’s article ‘What makes flavor leadership?’ (1953). We already can see the evolution of
the sensory business. A.D. Little would go on to promote descriptive analysis in the 1940’s – 1970’s,
when it would bring in the world of statistics, and change the method to profile attribute analysis
Needless to say, the Flavor Profile method would go on to achieve significant commercial
success. Company after company adopted the methods, sometimes following the original
prescriptions in a slavish, orthodox way, while others adjusted the procedure to match the reality of
the situation. Although many companies touted the fact that they were using the Flavor Profile, it’s
probably fair to hazard a guess that in a number of these companies the method was either not
what A.D.L. was selling, or if it was, then the profiling procedure was streamlined to fit the business
environment and constraints.
Before moving on to the world of testing rather than describing, it’s worth a moment to
digress and ask the question ‘Why?’ Just what did the profiling method have which attracted so
many people and continues to do so? Profiling attracts those in sensory analysis, but it also attracts
those in marketing research. The answers are legion. Here are a few, from the perspective of a 40+
year vantage point.
1. Description is the first step in a science. Witness Aristotle; a lot of his work was simply
describing. Describing gives one a sense of measuring or knowing the limits of field. Even if one
does not know the interior mechanisms, it’s sufficient, in many cases, to simply describe and/or
2. Experimental Psychology had just gone through a revival when those who promoted profiling got
started. One of the early schools of psychology which achieved success and recognition was the
‘Structuralist School.’ To these scientists a lot could be gained by introspecting on one’s sensory
experience. So, if Structural Psychology could use the method of introspection to found a
science, why not use the same introspection to define the dimensions or attributes of a product?
E.G. Boring’s History of Experimental Psychology (1929) makes good reading, as does his
Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology (1944). Close your eyes
and, in some cases, you might imagine that what you are reading is the results of sensory
analysis describing products.
3. Processes make efforts real; intermediate work products convince people. Profiling lends itself to
pictures of the process, to photos of individuals trying a product, rating a product, and, then the
profile projected on the wall during a presentation or in a report presented to the client.
Nothing succeeds like the impression of work, of professionalism, of a dedicated effort to make
the science work.
At the same time, companies interested in maintaining product control began food
acceptance testing in earnest. The efforts by the Quartermaster Corps, begun a decade before, were
still continuing in Chicago. Eventually, the Quartermaster Corps would move out of Chicago in the
early 1960’s to Natick Laboratories, located on a scenic lake in picturesque Natick, Massachusetts, a
suburb of Boston. A number of those who had been employed there left, either for companies or to
start their own businesses (e.g., David R. Peryam and Beverly Kroll, who were to found Peryam &
Kroll Research Corporation, headquartered in Chicago).
By today’s standards, these early ‘green shoots’ of sensory analysis don’t seem to be much.
Early efforts never really do, when compared against a burgeoning field. What should impress us,
however, is the efforts involved by these scientists (emphasize the word scientist) to bring rigor to
product evaluation. We are talking about the history of practicing bench scientists, chemists,
biologists, and so forth, confronting the issue of product acceptance and creating, literally with their
bare hands, the foundations of the science of sensory analysis that we know today.
Enter the world of marketing research
By the late 1950’s, it was becoming clear to those in the business world, especially
marketing and general management, that the sensory acceptance of a product might well play a
noticeable role in driving sales, especially repeat purchases. The end of World War II brought with
it prosperity; rationing had ended. The modern world of marketing and marketing management
came into being, along with many products that would appear on store shelves. Modern methods of
preservation and packaging, logistics, and an increasingly sophisticated consuming public, at least
in the United States, were beginning to demand products.
Popular tastes dictated that the food manufacturer regularly offer new products, to please
the palate, to remain viable in an increasingly competitive market. Mass communication, television,
radio, newspapers, all painted word pictures of products. Indeed, word pictures, coupled with
attractive product shots, could entice the customer to demand the product. Companies had to know
what people wanted. And so, was born the marketing equivalent of sensory analysis. This time it
was the market researcher’s job, among others, to discover consumer preferences. That name,
marketing researcher, would later morph into customer insights and other equivalents. We’re still
talking about the period when professionals were proud to call themselves market researchers.
Just as sensory analysis sprang from bench science, which attempted to profoundly
understand the appreciation of the product through the senses, market research sprang from
marketing and sales to profoundly understand what drove a person to want and then buy the
product. The distinction between sensory analysis and market research was clear, at least in the
early days. The two didn’t meet. Sensory analysis focused on the product per se. The human being
was simply a convenient bio-assay device by which to understand the product. On the other hand,
the market researcher was the dual of this sensory analyst. S/he wanted to understand the
dynamics of the consumer, what motivated the consumer to consider, buy, and either purchase
again or reject. The product was simply a convenient instrument, tool, or stimulus by which to
observe behavior. Absent the product, and something else just as interesting, such as the
magazines a person would buy, and there was a new measure, so-called ‘media consumption’. It
was all about the person. The product was just there, a place holder if you will.
Just as the discipline of sensory analysis began by describing the characteristics of products,
the discipline of marketing research begin by describing the characteristics of people Sensory
analysts worked with descriptive systems to ‘profile’ the characteristics of products (e.g., flavor
profile ( Cairncross & Sjostrom, 1950 and texture profile (Szczesniak, Loew & Skinner, 1975). In
parallel, market researchers began with systems to describe various groups or segments of
consumers in the population. At first, the descriptions were based upon standard geo-
demographics, such as gender, age, income, market and so forth. These gave way to descriptions of
usage behavior with respect to a product category, such as heavy versus light (frequent versus
infrequent) users. Usage analysis, in turn, gave rise to psychological segmentation based upon
values (e.g., Values and Lifestyle Segmentation (VALS), from the Stanford Research Institute, known
as SRI). William Wells, at Needham Harper & Steers advertising agency in Chicago, introduced the
notion of psychographics, or segmentation based on the mind-set of the respondent (Wells, 1975).
The mind-set was a general one, involving many aspects of one’s daily life, and not necessarily
related to the product or service, per se.
We see then, in the early days of sensory analysis and market research, the emergence of
two different groups of individuals, each pursuing a path to understanding products, the ‘stuff’ of
business. Both groups used description as the basis on which to found their disciplines. Sensory
analysis began with describing products, whereas market research began by describing people. In
the end, however, understanding by description would lead both groups just so far, and no further.
It would require a new impetus, a different world view, to shake each of the fields out of its
dogmatic slumber, away from the comfortable world of description, and squarely into the world of
predictive modeling and actionability.
We now turn to psychophysics. Psychophysics, an arcane branch of experimental
psychology, drove both sensory analysis and market research into new directions. Psychophysics,
sometimes an interloper, always an agent provocateur, ultimately a change agent, enjoyed spotty
acceptance in both fields for decades until the beginning of the 21st century, when it came to be
Psychophysics enters the fray, first with scales, then with relations between variables
Psychophysics is the branch of experimental psychology devoted to the study of how to
transform physical variables to sensory perceptions. Almost from the beginning, practitioners, or at
least those working in the developing world of sensory analysis, became aware of an arcane field of
psychology known as psychophysics.
From the historical perspective, it stands to reason that those bench scientists getting
involved with the sensory analysis of foods and beverages would want to learn about a branch of
science devoted to perception. Psychophysics, and more generally sensory science in the world of
psychology, at first investigated the different attributes of sensory perception, and later on focused
on ways to measure sensory experience. The content of psychophysics was such that at least a
passing familiarity with it was deemed relevant to the education of a sensory analyst. In those early
days, psychophysics did not make much of a contribution. Rather psychophysics comprised a
corpus of knowledge from the world of psychology deemed to be relevant, or at least worthy of
being known. Perhaps it was the ascendance of duty over desire.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, an intellectual revolution in psychophysics took place, with a great
impact on the field of sensory analysis and, a bit later, on marketing research. S. S. Stevens in
Harvard University’s Laboratory of Psychophysics was looking for regularities in the way people
perceived the intensity of stimuli (Stevens, 1975). To Stevens, the focus of psychophysics was the
regularity of nature. The method of measurement Stevens developed, magnitude estimation,
required the respondent to act as a measuring instrument. Respondents assigned numbers in sizes
to ‘match’ the perceived intensities of the physical stimuli being evaluated. In this rather simplistic
way, Stevens, his colleagues, students and even professional opponents, erected scales of sensory
magnitude. Indeed, the respondent became, the measuring instrument, whether or not one believed
that the respondent could validly do so.
The intellectual revolution in psychophysics began as a way of measuring sensory
responses. It grew to something far more powerful in the worlds of sensory analysis and marketing
research, affecting each field in its own separate fashion.
Sensory analysis, in the middle and late 1960’s, was a field in search of an organizing
principle and corpus of knowledge. Having developed out of the need of corporations to understand
products at the bench, the field was casting about for a literature. ‘Chemo-sensory’ (taste and
smell) psychophysics and, to some degree touch psychophysics, provided the organizing
framework and a convenient literature. Psychophysics, as Stevens recreated it, combined
measurement (methods and techniques) with the search for ‘laws’ (substance).
The advances in sensory analysis were soon evident. Sensory analysts began to look at
psychophysical methods, first as a method for evaluating likes and dislikes (Moskowitz & Sidel,
1971). Scaling was an easy step; one could argue about scales all day long. People were
comfortable with scales and Committee E18 of the American Society for Testing and Materials
(Sensory Evaluation) was quick to jump on the bandwagon of scaling as a ‘hot topic’ for the sensory
world. Early work, in the middle and late 1960’s in sensory psychophysics of taste and smell,
focused on so-called scales of sensory intensity.
In the end, however, scaling could only go so far. At the end of the day, and despite the
protestations of dyed-in-the-wool psychophysicists such as the author, a scale is a scale, is a scale.
One can focus on scales, but that wasn’t the pay-dirt. Rather, lawful relations between variables
ended up being the pay-dirt. Indeed, that is where psychophysics profoundly affects both sensory
analysis and market research. The attention to scales changed subtly over time, generally fading,
except for the resilient, die-hard ‘methodologist.’ Psychophysicists took scales for granted and
weren’t interested in method. They were interested in how nature worked. The notion of ‘scales’
ended up morphing into the specific relation between physical level of the stimulus and subjective
response of the panelist.
As psychophysics entered the stream of food science and butted heads with sensory
analysis, it soon became clear that each would have a chance to help the other. Sensory analysis
focused on real-world food products, topics of practical importance. That apotheosis of
psychophysics, the model system, e.g., the sugar solution, had to go. There were no sugar solutions
for sensory scientists, at least not as part of their regular work. If sweetness were to be studied, it
would be the sweetness of candy, cola beverages, and of a dozen other products whose composition
could be changed in a systematic way.
The beneficial fallout from the dialectic between psychophysics and sensory analysis
became clear. R&D product developers, along with general managers, soon realized that an
opportunity lay in understanding how the subjective response to a food changed as a function of
change in ingredients. Food product developers such as Victor V. Studer at Lipton and
entrepreneurs such as Don Scott and Charles Beck at Fermco Biochemics (later Searle Biochemics,
later Merisant) recognized that psychophysics provided sensory analysis and the food industry
with a powerful tool with which to understand how ingredients drove perceptions. Whether it was
changing the formulation of a salad dressing as Vic Studer was doing, or understanding the role of
aspartame in mixtures of sweeteners in cola, as Charles Beck was doing, psychophysics was having
its impact on sensory analysis (Moskowitz, Wolfe & Beck, 1978). In spite of occasional missteps and
internecine fighting, psychophysics showed a new way and laid the foundation of a science. Not
only were the results of these studies interesting; they also provided substantive knowledge about
the effects of ingredients on sensory responses and hedonics.
Market researchers ‘run with the ball’ of psychophysics
Psychophysics was introduced into the business world of by sensory analysis, but it would
be the market researchers who would ‘run with the ball’, at least in terms of using the data to make
business decisions. As noted above, market researchers derive their intellectual history from a
different heritage, that of sociology and business. Whereas sensory analysts look at the science of
any new approach, psychophysics as much as anything else, market researchers are taught to keep
their eye on the business applications. It was the clear financial benefits from psychophysics that
brought it squarely into the business world, in a way that ended up lurching past sensory analysis.
Through marketing research, psychophysics ended up convincing marketers, that understanding
how product variables ‘drive’ responses could increase sales. And it did, for Pepsi Cola, for
International Flavors and Fragrances, for Campbell Soup, Quaker Oats, General Foods, and a string
of companies with marketing researchers eager to grow their businesses through this arcane
branch of psychological science.