Our environment is full of cues signaling the availability of tasty, but often unhealthy, foods. In this paper, Poppy and colleagues report a recent study that examined the effect of food-associated stimuli on choice behavior in participants with healthy weight versus severe obesity. During a computerized test, participants were exposed to Pavlovian cues predictive of food pictures, and we examined their biasing effect on instrumental choice. For example, would a cue associated with crisps lead to a higher response rate for crisps (as opposed to, for example, lettuce)? Obese participants were indeed found to be more sensitive to high-calorie food cues relative to low-calorie cues. In contrast, healthy-weight individuals did not show a difference between the two food types. Therefore, this study supports the clinical relevance of this associative mechanism, and suggests that severely obese individuals are particularly sensitive to high-calorie food cues whereas low-calorie food cues have little effect on their behavior.
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Reference: Watson, P. Wiers, R.W., Hommel, B., Gerdes, V.E.A., de Wit, S. (2017). Stimulus Control over Action for Food in Obese versus Healthy-weight Individuals, Frontiers in Psychology – Eating Behavior, doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00580
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