June 17, 2004


In a comment on an earlier post, Julie mentions the “Bernaise Effect.” It’s an interesting phenomenon some of you may be familiar with.

The term was coined in the 1970’s when a psychologist noticed that eating his favorite steak and bernaise sauce, then subsequently becoming ill and vomiting it up, he retained a reaction of nausea in the future presence of bernaise sauce.

“Yeah, that makes sense” you say, but this learned behavior was different than previously observed conditioned responses in the laboratory. It only took one vomit session for the response to take hold. In previous experience the stimulus has to be given a number of times before you get something like Pavlov saw with his dog (ring the bell and the saliva starts).

Also, the vomiting happened hours after he ate. Such a long span of time between events was unheard of for producing a desired conditioned response. Usual times were more like one minute. Anything longer and no association is made.

There were other differences as well. He learned that it wasn’t the sauce that had made him sick, yet the conditioning remained. It was only the idea and presence of bernaise sauce that caused his feelings of nausea, not steak or any of the other things that were present at the meal. And this “bernaise effect” lasted many years; without reinforcement, conditioned responses usually die out within 10 to 15 exposures.

This led to an idea that there was some specific, evolutionary tendency that allows our ancestors to quickly associate sickness with certain foods (erring on the cautious side, of course). This effect is seen in other mammals. I don’t know if it’s in any non-mammals. I can’t seem to find it referenced on line, so they may have another name for it.

But when I learned about it, it was called the “Bernaise Effect” after the dinner of the fellow who first noticed it.

Julie mentions a reverse-Bernaise effect. I don’t know if anyone has ever documented such a reverse effect (association of comfort with a food). I think the comfort food effect is probably just plain old association. But still, an interesting way to describe it.

Posted by James at June 17, 2004 11:26 AM
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I called it "reverse-Bernaise" because it was in specific reference to an anti-emetic that I received only when I was sick, rather than a comfort food, which you can eat anytime. I got coke syrup only when I couldn't tolerate anything else, not even so-called comfort foods.

Posted by: Julie at June 17, 2004 12:02 PM

I don't know if this would be classified as strict Bernaise Effect, but let me tell you the story.

My sister and I worked together at a company and were sent to our Toronto office to conduct some training. One night, we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant where I ate cioppino (mussels, clams, scallops, fish, shrimp, all in a tomato-based broth). Well, something in the stew was bad and I spent the night vomiting. It was so bad, my sister said one more time and we're going to the hospital. I finally stopped.

The next morning, I got on a flight to come home and was very worried about vomiting on the plane; luckily, I didn't.

For years, I had a vague feeling of nausea and anxiety whenever I had to fly, but I never put two and two together until about 5 or so years ago. Once I realized _why_ I worried about vomiting on a plane, I was able to overcome that queasy feeling. I no longer feel nauseous when I get on a plane.

Posted by: Patti M. at June 17, 2004 12:04 PM

Steve on the couch as a small lad munching ginger snaps while watching a Reagan speech (Yeah, I was a reactionary since I learned how to walk). Ginger snaps came back to haunt me later.

Can't abide the smell of ginger to this day.

Posted by: Steve at June 17, 2004 3:19 PM

Maybe that's why I like pretzels.

Posted by: Julie at June 17, 2004 3:51 PM

I have the same thing with Pad Thai.

I used to go to lunch with coworkers at a Thai restaraunt once every month or two. One day we all ordered the Pad Thai, I ate it and threw up later that night (around midnight). It was really bad vomiting though. Like when I puke I tend to empty out the contents of my entire stomach, throwing up several times sometimes to the point of throwing up blood.

No one else got sick, so it most likely wasn't the Pad Thai that did it. Still, to this day I lose my appetite when I smell thai food.

Posted by: David Grenier at June 18, 2004 2:59 AM

I should say that I still love cioppino and order it when I see it on the menu.

Of the four times I've had food poisoning, three have been from shellfish. I love shellfish and continue to eat it frequently. Here's my list of poisonings:

1. Canned clams I used to make linguini with clam sauce
2. A tin of smoked baby mussels
3. Cioppino in Toronto
4. Rancid butter at Legal Seafoods in Worcester

Sometime, if you've got the interest and the stomach, you can check out the warning letters food packers/producers receive from the FDA. It can be nasty reading, but I find it fascinating.

Posted by: Patti M. at June 18, 2004 10:11 AM

I was eating Special K cereal when I received a phone call that my brother had died. That was 13 years ago, and just the sight of Special K still makes me sad.

Posted by: KissyO at June 18, 2004 10:06 PM

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