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Randomized Controlled Trial
, 89, 226-36

Emotional Eating and Pavlovian Learning: Does Negative Mood Facilitate Appetitive Conditioning?

Randomized Controlled Trial

Emotional Eating and Pavlovian Learning: Does Negative Mood Facilitate Appetitive Conditioning?

Peggy Bongers et al. Appetite.


Objective: Emotional eating has been suggested to be a learned behaviour; more specifically, classical conditioning processes might be involved in its development. In the present study we investigated whether a negative mood facilitates appetitive conditioning and whether trait impulsivity influences this process.

Method: After undergoing either a negative or neutral mood induction, participants were subjected to a differential classical conditioning procedure, using neutral stimuli and appetizing food. Two initially neutral distinctive vases with flowers were (CS+) or were not (CS-) paired with chocolate mousse intake. We measured participants' expectancy and desire to eat (4 CS+ and 4 CS- trials), salivation response, and actual food intake. The BIS-11 was administered to assess trait impulsivity.

Results: In both mood conditions, participants showed a classically conditioned appetite. Unexpectedly, there was no evidence of facilitated appetitive learning in a negative mood with regard to expectancy, desire, salivation, or intake. However, immediately before the taste test, participants in the negative mood condition reported a stronger desire to eat in the CS+ compared to the CS- condition, while no such effect occurred in the neutral group. An effect of impulsivity was found with regard to food intake in the neutral mood condition: high-impulsive participants consumed less food when presented with the CS+ compared to the CS-, and also less than low-impulsive participants.

Discussion: An alternative pathway to appetitive conditioning with regard to emotions is that it is not the neutral stimuli, but the emotions themselves that become conditioned stimuli and elicit appetitive responses.

Keywords: Appetitive conditioning; Cue reactivity; Emotional eating; Impulsivity; Mood.

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