Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation

Brain Cogn. 2016 Dec:110:53-63. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2015.08.006. Epub 2015 Oct 1.


One of the brain's key roles is to facilitate foraging and feeding. It is presumably no coincidence, then, that the mouth is situated close to the brain in most animal species. However, the environments in which our brains evolved were far less plentiful in terms of the availability of food resources (i.e., nutriments) than is the case for those of us living in the Western world today. The growing obesity crisis is but one of the signs that humankind is not doing such a great job in terms of optimizing the contemporary food landscape. While the blame here is often put at the doors of the global food companies - offering addictive foods, designed to hit 'the bliss point' in terms of the pleasurable ingredients (sugar, salt, fat, etc.), and the ease of access to calorie-rich foods - we wonder whether there aren't other implicit cues in our environments that might be triggering hunger more often than is perhaps good for us. Here, we take a closer look at the potential role of vision; Specifically, we question the impact that our increasing exposure to images of desirable foods (what is often labelled 'food porn', or 'gastroporn') via digital interfaces might be having, and ask whether it might not inadvertently be exacerbating our desire for food (what we call 'visual hunger'). We review the growing body of cognitive neuroscience research demonstrating the profound effect that viewing such images can have on neural activity, physiological and psychological responses, and visual attention, especially in the 'hungry' brain.

Keywords: Behaviour; Cognition; Digital; Food aesthetics; Food intake; Food porn; Gastrophysics; Gastroporn; Technology; Virtual; Vision; Visual hunger.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Esthetics*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Satiation / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*