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Obese and overweight individuals show a marked attentional bias to food cues. Food-related attentional bias may therefore play a causal role in over-eating. To test this possibility, the current study experimentally manipulated attentional bias towards food using a modified version of the visual probe task in which cake-stationery item image pairs were presented for 500 ms each. Participants (N = 60) were either trained to attend to images of cake, trained to avoid images of cake, or assigned to a no-training control group. Hunger was measured before and after the training. Post-training, participants were given the opportunity to consume cake as well as a non-target food (crisps) that was not included in the training. There was weak evidence of an increase in attentional bias towards cake in the attend group only. We found no selective effects of the training on hunger or food intake, and little evidence for any gender differences. Our study suggests that attentional bias for food is particularly ingrained and difficult to modify. It also represents a first step towards elucidating the potential functional significance of food-related attentional biases and the lack of behavioural effects is broadly consistent with single-session attentional training studies from the addiction literature. An alternative hypothesis, that attentional bias represents a noncausal proxy for the motivational impact of appetitive stimuli, is considered.
Bibliographical noteCopyright © 2013. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
- Brain and Behaviour
- Tobacco and Alcohol
- Nutrition and Behaviour