The effects of exposure to appetitive cues on inhibitory control: A meta-analytic investigation

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Inhibitory control refers to the ability to stop, change or delay a response, and is often used in order to protect higher order goals. Theoretical models suggest that appetitive cues such as pictures of alcoholic drinks or food evoke strong automatic appetitive responses which lead to transient impairments in inhibitory control, and that these effects of cues may be related to individual differences (e.g. in body mass index, or alcohol consumption). In order to investigate these claims we conducted a random effects meta-analysis of 66 effect sizes (35 alcohol, 31 food) from 37 articles that tested the effect of exposure to appetitive (alcohol/food) cues on indices of inhibitory control. The overall effect of cue exposure was small, but robust (SMD = −0.12 [95% CI −0.23, −0.02]; Z = 2.34, p =.02, I 2 = 84%). Exposure to alcohol-related cues significantly impaired inhibitory control (SMD = −0.21 [95% CI = −0.32, −0.11]; Z = 4.17, p <.001), however exposure to food-related cues did not lead to impairments (SMD = −0.03 [95% CI = −0.21, 0.15]; Z = 0.36, p =.720). There was no evidence that drinking or weight status significantly moderated the effects of cues on inhibitory control. Similarly, cue modality (words, pictures, or smells) did not significantly moderate the effects. Trim and Fill analysis suggested bias in the literature, which when corrected, made the overall effect of cues non-significant. Overall, these findings provide some tentative support for theoretical claims that exposure to appetitive cues prompts transient impairments in inhibitory control. Further research is required to determine the clinical significance of these observations. However, care should be taken when drawing conclusions from a potentially biased evidence base.




Jones, A., Robinson, E., Duckworth, J., Kersbergen, I., Clarke, N., & Field, M. (2018). The effects of exposure to appetitive cues on inhibitory control: A meta-analytic investigation. Appetite, 128, 271–282.

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