In our digital world, so many of our consumer choices are influenced by others. New restaurants are not tried unless a Yelp review indicates we should do so. “Uh oh, two stars for that place. Let’s keep looking”. We’ve all been there. But what if we allowed ourselves to take the risk, knowing consciously that the consequences of a bad choice could be calamitous? For example, if someone were to offer you candy that taste like dog food, grass clippings, or even vomit, would you want it? Why would anyone want such candy, you reply? Better yet, why would anyone make such a candy?

In 2007, the Jelly Belly Candy Company started doing just that1. These “Bean Boozled” jelly beans come in a variety of flavors, with each package containing ten different colored beans; however, each color offers two distinct possibilities: a yum or a yuck. For example, in the third edition, the brave may take a green jelly bean that may taste like lime or lawn clippings. The pinkish offering may be peach or the dreaded barf. The newly released fourth edition offers coconut or spoiled milk and strawberry banana smoothie or dead fish. The flavors are real and quite powerful. But the question remains: why would consumers buy jelly beans that have the most awful flavor profiles? The answer is brilliant and complex, and shows how flavor preference goes beyond the taste to engage consumers with games and behavioral economics.

Beyond the Taste: The Bean Boozled Challenge


With principles dating back further than any known mention, a brilliant researcher named Nick Pelling offered a new term to the research landscape in 2003. A few years later this term was used by Brett Terrill to describe the Social Gaming Summit2. By 2013, the term “gamification” can be heard in webinars and at conferences every day. Simply put, gamification is the act of making a game out of something. It started with merit badges and S&H Green Stamps, but took off in the form of airline miles. What better way to drive customer loyalty than reward them with status, better seats, etc? Even “social navigation” incorporated this concept in the form of Waze, which was bought by Google in 2013 to the tune of 1.1 billion dollars.  “Whistle while you work”, as the Dwarves would sing, is the mantra here. Now, back to jelly beans. Instead of simply offering a package of Bean Boozled beans, the Jelly Belly Candy Company upped the ante by offering a game version that asked players to spin a dial indicating which color of bean to try. It’s remarkably simple but quite effective: each game contains a spinner and beans. But more than that, it encourages group play by making a game of it, therefore “gamifying” the act of eating jelly beans. But I hear you asking ever still: game or not, why would I want to try spoiled milk, dead fish, or toothpaste? To answer that, we turn our attention to the actual experience with the beans themselves.

3 seconds

Did you know that scientists can determine your food preferences within three seconds? Using a variety of methods (physiological, facial expression, etc), Wei He and colleagues at the University of Wageningen showed that “liking” a flavor takes place very quickly (within 2 sec), but more negative reactions, like disgust to fish, happen even faster3! In order to measure such immediate responses, researchers need a means to detect fast, implicit, System 1, processes. Enter Noldus’ FaceReader4. As seen previously5, FaceReader detects 500 points on the face to describe the six basic emotions (happy, sad, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise), plus twenty Action Units, or the muscles on the face that make up said emotions. In this project, FaceReader was applied to the Bean Boozled Challenge thanks to the many people who voluntarily uploaded their own Challenge videos to the internet via YouTube6.


Yum or Mr Yuck

Go have a look: there are literally thousands of these videos. A random sample was taken, mainly videos in which the face can be seen clearly, where the participant is not wearing glasses, has good quality lighting, etc. Once the face was analyzed, the reactions were segmented into either a “Yum” or “Mr Yuck7” group. Seen in Figure 1, the Yum group showed happy as the primary emotion, with almost no disgust whatsoever. This was expected and not a surprise at all. The Mr Yuck group, however, showed disgust as expected, but also happy. This was befuddling: why would baby wipes, bugs, or pencil shavings elicit a happy response?


The principle of Peak-End

When the temporal distribution of the responses was analyzed, however, the answer became quite clear: the Mr Yuck group showed a clear biphasic distribution of emotion. Shown in Figure 2, the Mr Yuck group showed an initial disgust response, but that quickly gave way to happiness. The reason is the game: as soon as your friends see your Mr Yuck Face, they start laughing. Acknowledging that you’ve been “Bean Boozled”, you start laughing as well. You were the butt of this round but it was all in good fun and everyone has a hearty laugh.


In Behavioral Economics, the principle of “Peak-End” suggests that experiences are judged by their peaks and ends8. Disney makes billions on this principle with their ever-present “happily ever after” motif. But in the context of the beans, the Peak End Rule suggests that the laughter at the end of a Mr Yuck bean trumps the actual disgusting taste of the bean itself. We spin the wheel and try again. I may enjoy a Yum this time while laughing at your Mr Yuck Face. That is the fun in the game. I imagine that if one were to try a bean alone, with no camera, any amount of happiness at the end would not exist, but that’s why the gamification is so important. Having friends around to share the experience is the vital component to getting over the Mr Yuck flavor!

Grow brands

The Bean Boozled Challenge shows how brands can grow by engaging consumers to play games, even if that brand creates flavors that are literally disgusting. Whether intentional or not, the Jelly Belly Candy Company exemplifies the principles of gamification and the Peak End Rule with one box of brilliant beans.

Bean Boozled Challenge

So now: have you tried the Bean Boozled Challenge? Upload your reactions here for a FaceReader analysis of your Mr Yuck face.


  3. He et al., Frontiers in Psychology 5(110), 2014