Do specific food/beverage cravings and/or media exposure affect cognitive control over environmental food-cues?
Obesity is associated with health risks and increased medical costs. Research indicates that susceptibility to craving elicited by environmental cues (sights or smells of food) may particularly influence unhealthy eating behaviors. As such, we are exploring the relationship between food cravings, eating habits, and environmental stimuli in food-cue processing in two separate populations: adults and young children. Our first study uses event-related potentials (a noninvasive measure of brain activity) to examine individual differences in neural correlates of controlling cognitive/behavioral responses to highly craved foods (chocolate) and beverages (coffee). We hypothesize that participants who crave chocolate more than coffee will exhibit enhanced neural responses to pictures of chocolate, while the direction of this effect will be reversed in participants who strongly crave caffeinated beverages. In a separate study, we assess preschool-aged children’s abilities to exert cognitive and behavioral control when confronted with food cues, particularly after viewing food-related advertisements. Both of these studies explore the relationship between food preferences, eating habits, processing environmental food-cues, and other personality variables. In all, we hope to determine if successfully inhibiting inappropriate responses to food-cues relates to increased neurocognitive demands and higher levels of behavioral control.