Is that friend who always very politely turns down your offers for cream or sugar very possibly hiding a dark secret, as haters around the internet have been insisting recently? No, probably not—but here’s why some people are saying taking your coffee black means you’re more likely to be a psychopath.
A new study published in Appetite looks at American taste preferences and found that people whose tastes tend towards the bitter—particularly black coffee, radishes, beer, and celery—were also more likely to score higher on tests measuring traits in the “Dark Triad”: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism, as well as “everyday sadism”.
So should you start testing any new friends by casually offering them a radish, before moving any further? Possibly! But only because it would be a fun thing to do. You see, there’s a big problem with how the researchers got their data.
Instead of actually giving people something to taste-test, they went with a survey asking people about their food and taste preferences. This is a problem because, when it comes to food, people (and not just ones with traits in the Dark Triad) are liars. It’s not necessarily done deliberately and not always even consciously. But, with a few exceptions, our food preferences are very much shaped by the moment—and the things we say about our food preferences are not only very changeable, they also bear very little on how we actually behave.
“I like sour flavors,” the man in front of me at the bakery says, before ordering a slice of lemon meringue. “I hate everything with tomatoes in it,” my friend who loves ketchup tells me. “I just don’t like cake,” I insist—which is mostly true—but I still happily snack on the batter while waiting for the oven to preheat.
If researchers were hearing plenty of “I don’t need your cream or sugar because I want my coffee black LIKE MY SOUL” responses, that probably tells us much more about how we like to talk about ourselves than how our tastes work.
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