Why We Scream For Ice Cream: The Secret Behind A Summertime Staple

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. But why? Ice cream is a summertime staple and America’s favorite dessert and Anyone who’s spent more than 5 minutes with me ever knows I’m obsessed with the stuff (I may or may not eat talentino gelato for breakfast regularly and be on a first name with the guy at Dairy Queen), but there’s more to the ice cream obsession than just my opinion.

Americans on a whole love ice cream: 41% rank it as their favorite dessert and 86% of us eat it at least once a week. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan, recognizing the importance of the nation’s favorite dessert, declared July National Ice Cream Month.

But it’s not a just a sugar high that attracts us to Blizzards and Drumsticks; there’s actually a psychological connection between the cold, creamy dessert and feelings of happiness.  A recent research project, intent on understanding the relationship between food stimuli and feelings of pleasure or lack of pleasure, tested how people respond to ice cream. From participant surveys, it was deduced that people consider eating ice cream highly enjoyable and that it is associated with good feelings and memories.

To determine the neurological activity that occurs while ice cream is consumed, participants underwent MRI scanning while eating ice cream. The results showed that ice cream activates the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that shows positive emotional pleasure. Ice cream also activated the primary somatosensory cortex, due to the cold temperature, the insula cortex, due to the taste, the motor cortex, due to mouth movements while eating, and the doro-lateral prefrontal cortex, which reflects the excitement associated with eating ice cream.

So what does this mean? These parts of the brain are all involved in receiving pleasure stimuli and processing emotional and sensory stimuli—and ice cream stimulates positive emotions. In other words, eating ice cream not only tastes like happiness, it literally IS happiness.

image via Kayla Bacon

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