Understanding the rules of life

Category: Standard Studentships

Learned changes in odour experience: a neural, genetic and behavioural analysis

Project No.2270

Primary Supervisor

Prof Martin Yeomans,- University of Sussex


Dr Lorenzo Stafford – University of Portsmouth

Dr Matthew Parker – University of Portsmouth



Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug and is also a food additive found in many foods and beverages.

Recent concerns have been raised about the excess consumption of energy drinks containing high levels of caffeine and sugar, particularly in younger consumers. To date, research (some completed by Yeomans/Stafford/Parker) has demonstrated the characteristics of caffeine in terms of its withdrawal effects on mood, cognition and preference, but the more fundamental questions on the neural mechanisms underlying changes in flavour liking driven by caffeine

ingestion remain unknown. This is important to understand as it will reveal how acquiring a liking for caffeine is linked to particular brain pathways (inc adenosine) and thereby contribute to questions of plasticity and addiction. This project will combine further behavioural characterisation of changes in human flavour experience through association with sugars and caffeine with the first ever studies of neural changes in response to caffeine- or sugar-associated odours and tastes using fMRI. Additionally, we will examine the potential role of known polymorphisms in adenosine receptors in individual differences in response to caffeine. The student will receive state-of-the-art training in human learning and psychopharmacology, in fMRI testing with tastes and smells (at Sussex), behavioural analyses of odour and taste detection and discrimination (at Portsmouth) and genetic analysis of human behaviour. The outcomes have relevance to the understanding of drivers of overconsumption of energy drinks, with potential impact on policy and product formulation.