Making Sense of Crossmodal Perception with Professor Charles Spence

Tuesday 26th September

By YFood

We’re an interactive platform passionate about driving innovation in the Food Industry using technology by connecting and supporting the most brilliant minds in the food industry.

As we count down to London Food Tech Week 2017, we will be sharing interviews with our headline speakers. Join us as we learn about their connection to the Food Tech industry, get insider opinions on the upcoming Food Tech trends and innovations they most anticipate, and really get to know them! First up we hear from Professor Charles Spence, Head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford who will be sharing his insights during the week on how unlocking the understanding of the human mind can influence design of environments, foods, and products to support the growing experience economy.

Crossmodal what now?

Crossmodal perception is what happens when two or more different sensory modalities (our five senses) cross paths and interact with each other. Founded in 1997 by Professor Charles Spence, Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory studies the integration of information across various sensory modalities using different techniques and methods. As a world-renowned experimental psychologist specialising in neuroscience-inspired multi-sensory design, Professor Spence heads the Laboratory which looks into how people perceive the world around them and how our brains process that information fed to it by each sense.

This area of research seeks to help us understand our brain better and give exciting new insight into how we view our senses. Their research is key to uncovering the full potential of real world implications and applications that will help create better designs of multisensory experiences, foods, products, interfaces and environments.


Crossmodal perception and Food Tech

Professor Spence is adamant that crossmodal perception has a firm seat at the Food Tech table “because we are on the verge of technology arriving at the dining table!” According to Professor Spence, the key challenge lies in deciding how to integrate technology seamlessly into the multi-sensory dining experience and more importantly figure out why we are doing it. For example, should we use technology to deliver more stimulating or theatrical dining experiences? And how can we use technology to help build stories around the food? Or should we use the technology to help nudge people toward healthier food behaviours instead?

Which brings us to one of the biggest issues currently in the food system: nutrition. Professor Spence is confident that by harnessing dinner table technology to deliver more ‘off the plate’ experiences, there is the potential to sensorially nudge people toward healthier food behaviours. This is a great counter-measure against distracting consumers into eating more – Professor Spence explains that we eat up to 35% more when dining in front of the TV!

While his team’s research continues to shed light on the vast territory of crossmodal perception, a divide exists that will stymie the uptake of new and wonderful technologies resulting from newfound learnings.  Professor Spence points out the disconnect between the high-tech one-off solutions coming out of design studios and human-computer interaction labs, and the mass-market offerings needed to bring the latest food tech innovations to the mainstream. He stresses that focusing innovation on bridging that gap is necessary.

Where do we go from here?

“AR at the table”, Professor Spence offers without hesitation, when asked about what he thinks the next Food Tech will be.  

“I am really interested to see how AR and possibly also VR can be integrated into the dining experience, and how such solutions, first trialled at high-end restaurants can be brought to the mainstream. Beyond total entertainment, it is also an exploration into how we can stimulate all the senses more effectively at the table.”

Professor Spence also names a few promising startups and companies doing really innovative things in this field. “Project Nourished have some intriguing solutions in this [AR and crossmodal applications] space.”

“However, the prize has to go to Professor Katsuo Okajima from Japan. He has been demonstrating and developing some awe-inspiring AR solutions over the last couple of years.” Virtual creamer in your coffee to go with your virtual sushi, anyone? “But then again, I would argue that many of the most exciting innovations in food experience design, and in food tech have come out of London in recent years. Hence, London Food Tech Week is the place to be to find out what may be coming next!”


Professor Charles Spence will be talking on the Tech Food Reality Day during London Food Tech Week. Do you want to hear more from him and lots of other high-calibre thought leaders? Be sure to attend London Food Tech Week 2017, which will be abuzz with great minds and world-changing ideas. Get your Passport now.

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