Time course of electrocortical food-cue responses during cognitive regulation of craving

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In our current obesogenic environment, exposure to visual food-cues can easily lead to craving and overeating because short-term, pleasurable effects of food intake dominate over the anticipated long-term adverse effects such as weight gain and associated health problems. Here we contrasted these two conditions during food-cue presentation while acquiring event-related potentials (ERPs) and subjective craving ratings. Female participants (n = 25) were presented with either high-calorie (HC) or low-calorie (LC) food images under instructions to imagine either immediate (NOW) or long-term effects (LATER) of consumption. On subjective ratings for HC foods, the LATER perspective reduced cravings as compared to the NOW perspective. For LC foods, by contrast, craving increased under the LATER perspective. Early ERPs (occipital N1, 150-200 ms) were sensitive to food type but not to perspective. Late ERPs (late positive potential, LPP, 350-550 ms) were larger in the HC-LATER condition than in all other conditions, possibly indicating that a cognitive focus on negative long-term consequences induced negative arousal. This enhancement for HC-LATER attenuated to the level of the LC conditions during the later slow wave (550-3000 ms), but amplitude in the HC-NOW condition was larger than in all other conditions, possibly due to a delayed appetitive response. Across all conditions, LPP amplitudes were positively correlated with self-reported emotional eating. In sum, results reveal that regulation effects are secondary to an early attentional analysis of food type and dynamically evolve over time. Adopting a long-term perspective on eating might promote a healthier food choice across a range of food types.




Meule, A., Kübler, A., & Blechert, J. (2013). Time course of electrocortical food-cue responses during cognitive regulation of craving. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(SEP). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00669

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