SATO Wataru Laboratory

Unconscious affective responses to food

(Sato, Sawada, Kubota, Toichi, & Fushiki: PLoS One)

Affective or hedonic responses to food are crucial for humans, both advantageously (e.g., enhancing survival) and disadvantageously (e.g., promoting overeating and lifestyle-related disease).
Although previous psychological studies have reported evidence of unconscious cognitive and behavioral processing related to food, it remains unknown whether affective reactions to food can be triggered unconsciously and its relationship with daily eating behaviors.

We investigated these issues by using the subliminal affective priming paradigm.
Photographs of food or corresponding mosaic images were presented in the peripheral visual field for 33 ms.
Target photos of faces with emotionally neutral expressions were then presented, and participants rated their preferences for the faces.
Eating behaviors were also assessed using questionnaires.

The food images, relative to the mosaics, increased participants°« preference for subsequent target faces.
Furthermore, the difference in the preference induced by food versus mosaic images was positively correlated with the tendency to engage in external eating.

These results suggest that unconscious affective reactions are elicited by the sight of food and that these responses contribute to daily eating behaviors related to overeating.

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