Risk takers often prefer this type of beer, according to research

What can your beer of choice reveal about your personality? Quite a lot actually, according to a new study from Penn State. Researchers discovered that people who like to take risks and seek out new experiences, and perceive bitter tastes strongly, are very likely to prefer bitter, pale-ale style beers.

Not everyone’s sense of taste is the same, especially when it comes to bitterness. Some people perceive bitter tastes, like that of black coffee (or in this case a pale-ale beer), much more intensely than others. Most people with elevated bitter sensitivity stay away from bitter-tasting food and drink. But, this new research has found that when bitter sensitivity is combined with an adventurous spirit, that individual is very likely to enjoy and prefer pale-ale beers, like IPAs.

Blind taste tests and personality assessments were conducted with a participant group of 109 “beer consumers.” Even the research team behind this study say they were surprised by what they found regarding bitter sensitivity, a proclivity for risk-taking, and pale-ale beers.

“Traditionally, most researchers find that people who experience bitterness more intensely avoid bitter food or drink — so with heightened bitterness, they like it less, and therefore consume it less,” comments study co-author John Hayes, associate professor of food science at PSU, in a university release. “But here, we find that people who seek higher sensations and are more risk-taking, they like bitter beer such as India pale ales, if they also have greater bitter taste perception.”

On a related note, multiple previous studies have also observed a connection between adventurous personalities and a preference for spicy foods. Circling back to bitter sensations specifically, the study’s authors believe their findings suggest personality plays a big role in whether or not someone enjoys bitter tastes. 

“Our data contradict the classic view that bitterness is merely an aversive sensation that limits intake. We found that increased bitterness perception does not always lead to decreased liking and intake — rather, it’s a positive attribute in some products for some consumers,” says lead researcher Molly Higgins.

Each participant was asked to rate the intensity of, and how much they enjoyed, two pale ales and one lager. Additionally, participants were also asked to gauge the intensity of two bitter solutions; quinine (used to make tonic water bitter) and Tetralone (a hops extract). This was all done under blind lab conditions, meaning participants had no idea what type of beer they were drinking at any given moment. With all of that data, the research team constructed a “liking ratio” for each beer based on subjects’ ratings for individual beers compared to their collective ratings. 

Personality and alcohol intake surveys were filled out by all participants as well. Using those alcohol intake surveys, researchers classified each participant as either a weekly, monthly, or yearly pale ale drinker. This information, along with other data such as personality traits, also went toward both liking ratio and drink frequency predictions.

For the three beers included in the research, the study’s authors wanted to account for a full spectrum of tastes. So, they went with Budweiser as the lager-style beer with low bitterness. Then, for the two pale-ales, Founder’s All-Day IPA Session Ale was chosen as a “moderately bitter ale” and Troeg’s Perpetual IPA Imperial Pale Ale was picked as the very bitter ale option. 

After performing an analysis, a significant connection was discovered between an adventurous, sensation-seeking personality, elevated quinine bitterness, and the liking ratio of Troeg’s IPA. 

“The interaction revealed liking of the pale ale increased with sensation-seeking but only if quinine bitterness was also high,” Higgins says. “Intake models showed increased odds of frequent pale-ale intake with greater quinine bitterness and lower liking for lager beer. These data suggest liking and intake of pale ales is positively related to sensation seeking and bitter taste perception.”

Besides making for a fascinating conversation topic the next time you head down the grocery store beer aisle with a friend, the study’s authors are hopeful their work may lead to new strategies focused on encouraging healthier eating patterns. If many adventurous individuals like bitter beer, there’s plenty of healthy and bitter food out there as well.

“Avoidance of bitter foods can impact health negatively because bitter foods such as cruciferous vegetables, green tea, and grapefruit contain healthy compounds like flavonols, which are reported to have antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties,” Higgins concludes.

The full study can be found here, published in Food Quality and Preference.