Stress, cues, and motivation for food
Stojek, Monika Magdalena Kardacz
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Eating patterns that lead to overconsumption of high fat, high sugar (HFHS) foods share similar features with addictive behaviors. Thus, application of addiction paradigms and analytical methods, such as stress inductions, cue reactivity and behavioral economic assessments of reinforcing value, to the study of motivation for HFHS food consumption is promising means of understanding overconsumption. To date, no studies have investigated the interaction of stress and environmental cues on subjective craving and the relative reinforcing value of HFHS foods (RRVfood), the focus of the current study. The study used a mixed factorial design (Mood Induction: Neutral, Stress; Cues: Neutral, Food) with repeated measures on time (Baseline, Post-Mood Induction, Post-Cue Exposure). Participants (N=133) were adults recruited from the community who denied symptoms of eating disorders and endorsed liking of HFHS snacks. The primary dependent variables were subjective craving and RRVfood. Negative and positive affect, heart rate and blood pressure, the amount of food consumed, and latency to first bite were also examined. Participants in the Stress Induction condition reported the expected increase in negative affect and decrease in positive affect, but no change in craving or RRVfood. Exposure to food cues significantly increased participants’ subjective craving and RRVfood. A significant interaction of stress and cues, was not present. Participants did not differ on how many calories they consumed based on exposure to stress or food cues, but those exposed to food cues tended to start eating faster. This study highlights the utility of using RRVfood to further characterize food motivation above and beyond craving. It also suggests that stress does not generally influence food motivation and may only be relevant in clinical groups or individuals with certain motivational profiles.