Modulation of sweet preference by the actual and anticipated consequences of eating

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Previous research has shown that non-human animals exhibit an inverted-U pattern of sweet preference, with consumption increasing across moderate levels of sweetness and then declining for high levels of sweetness. In rodents, this pattern reflects an avoidance of the postingestive effects of consuming energy-dense sugar solutions (conditioned satiation). Here, we examined whether humans also adjust their preferences to compensate for the anticipated energy content/satiating outcomes of consuming sweetened foods. In two experiments (each N = 40), participants were asked to taste and imagine eating small (15 g) and large (250 g) portions of five novel desserts that varied in sweetness. Participants evaluated the desserts' expected satiety, expected satiation, and expected sickliness. A measure of estimated energy content was also derived using a computerized energy compensation test. This procedure was completed before and after consuming a standard lunch. Across both experiments, results confirmed that participants preferred a less sweet dessert when asked to imagine eating a large versus a small portion, and when rating the dessert in a fed versus fasted state. We also obtained evidence that participants anticipated more energy from the sweeter desserts (even in Experiment 2 when half of the participants were informed that the desserts were equated for energy content). However we found only partial evidence for anticipated satiation—expected sickliness was related systematically to increases in sweetness, but expected satiation and expected satiety were only weakly influenced. These findings raise questions about the role of sweetness in the control of food intake (in humans) and the degree to which ‘sweet-calorie learning’ occurs in complex dietary environments where sweetness may actually be a poor predictor of the energy content of foods.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575–584
Number of pages10
Early online date8 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Nutrition and Behaviour


  • Sweet taste
  • Preference
  • Expected satiation


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