Investigating the Effect of Physiological Need States on Palatability and Motivation Using Microstructural Analysis of Licking

The study of consummatory responses during food intake represents a unique opportunity to investigate the physiological, psychological and neurobiological processes that control ingestive behavior. Recording the occurrence and temporal organization of individual licks across consumption, also called lickometry, yields a rich data set that can be analyzed to dissect consummatory responses into different licking patterns. These patterns, divided into trains of licks separated by pauses, have been used to deconstruct the many influences on consumption, such as palatability evaluation, incentive properties, and post-ingestive processes. In this review, we describe commonly used definitions of licking patterns and how various studies have defined and measured these. We then discuss how licking patterns can be used to investigate the impact of different physiological need states on processes governing ingestive behavior. We also present new data showing how licking patterns are changed in an animal model of protein appetite and how this may guide food choice in different protein-associated hedonic and homeostatic states. Thus, recording lick microstructure can be achieved relatively easily and represents a useful tool to provide insights, beyond the measurement of total intake, into the multiple factors influencing ingestive behavior.