Starting from an addiction model of obesity, the present study examined differences in attention for food-related stimuli and food intake between overweight/obese and normal-weight women under conditions of hunger and satiety. Twenty-six overweight/obese (BMI: 30.00 ± 4.62) and 40 normal-weight (BMI: 20.63 ± 1.14) females were randomly assigned to a condition of hunger or satiety. Three indexes of attention were employed, all including pictures of food items: an eye-tracking paradigm (gaze direction and duration), a visual probe task (reaction times), and a recording of electrophysiological brain activity (amplitude of the P300 event-related potential). In addition, the acute food intake of participants was assessed using a bogus taste task. In general, an attentional bias towards food pictures was found in all participants. No differences between groups or conditions were observed in the eye-tracking data. The visual probe task revealed an enhanced automatic orientation towards food cues in hungry versus satiated, and in overweight/obese versus normal-weight individuals, but no differences between groups or conditions in maintained attention. The P300 amplitude showed that only in normal-weight participants the intentional allocation of attention to food pictures was enhanced in hunger versus satiety. In hungry overweight/obese participants, the P300 bias for food pictures was not clearly present, although an increased food intake was observed especially in this group. In conclusion, various attention-related tasks yielded various results, suggesting that they measure different underlying processes. Strikingly, overweight/obese individuals appear to automatically direct their attention to food-related stimuli, to a greater extent than normal-weight individuals, particularly when food-deprived. Speculatively, hungry overweight/obese individuals also appear to use cognitive strategies to reduce a maintained attentional bias for food stimuli, perhaps in an attempt to prevent disinhibited food intake. However, in order to draw firm conclusions, replication studies are needed.

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Department of Psychology

Nijs, I., Muris, P., Euser, A., & Franken, I. (2010). Differences in attention to food and food intake between overweight/obese and normal-weight females under conditions of hunger and satiety. Appetite, 54(2), 243–254. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2009.11.004