Hedonic Hunger Is Related to Increased Neural and Perceptual Responses to Cues of Palatable Food and Motivation to Consume: Evidence From 3 Independent Investigations

J Nutr. 2016 Sep;146(9):1807-12. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.231431. Epub 2016 Aug 3.


Background: The Power of Food Scale (PFS) seeks to identify individuals who experience high appetitive drive in response to food cues, which is a construct termed "hedonic hunger."

Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess cross-sectional correlates and predictive power of PFS scores to probe the construct of hedonic hunger.

Methods: Separate data from 3 studies (study 1, n = 44; study 2, n = 398; study 3, n = 100) were used to evaluate the construct of hedonic hunger. We examined the correlations between the PFS and neural responsivity during intake and anticipated intake of palatable foods, behavioral food reinforcement, perceptual hedonic ratings of food images, and change in body mass index (BMI) and binge eating over time.

Results: Hedonic hunger was strongly related to bilateral brain response in regions implicated in oral somatosensory processing during cue-elicited anticipation of food intake (study 1; right postcentral gyrus: r = 0.67, P < 0.001; left postcentral gyrus: r = 0.64, P < 0.001), and was correlated with behavioral food reinforcement (study 2; r = 0.31, P = 0.03) and perceptual hedonic ratings (study 3; r = 0.24, P = 0.02). Hedonic hunger was not associated with baseline BMI (studies 1-3: P = 0.14, 0.21, and 0.37, respectively) or change in BMI over the 2-y follow-up (studies 1 and 2: P = 0.14 and 0.37, respectively) but was significantly correlated with baseline binge eating in 2 samples (study 1: r = 0.58, P = 0.001; study 2: r = 0.31, P = 0.02; and study 3: P = 0.02).

Conclusions: Hedonic hunger was not predictive of weight regulation. However, individuals who report high hedonic hunger are likely to show increased neural and perceptual responses to cues of palatable foods, increased motivation to consume such foods, and a greater likelihood of current binge eating.

Keywords: Power of Food Scale; binge eating; fMRI; food reinforcement; food reward; obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Appetite
  • Body Mass Index
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cues*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hunger*
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Prospective Studies
  • Taste
  • Young Adult