Sweet cognition: The differential effects of glucose consumption on attentional food bias in individuals of lean and obese status

Physiol Behav. 2019 Jul 1;206:264-273. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.04.014. Epub 2019 Apr 17.


In general, glucose consumption improves cognitive performance; however, it is unknown whether glucose specifically alters attentional food bias, and how this process may vary by BMI status. We hypothesized that glucose consumption would increase attentional food bias among individuals of obese BMI status more so than among individuals of lean BMI status. Participants (N = 35) completed the n-back, a working memory task modified to assess attentional food bias (ATT-Food), under fasting and glucose challenge conditions. We computed pre-post changes in ATT-Food, blood glucose and insulin (∆BG & ∆BI), and perceived task-stress (∆stress). After the second cognitive test and blood draw, participants ate lunch and completed a "taste test" of highly palatable foods, and we recorded food consumption. Pre-post changes in ATT-Food were greater among participants of obese (relative to lean) BMI status (F(1,33) = 5.108, p = .031). Greater ∆ATT-Food was significantly associated with greater ∆BG (r = .462, p = .007) and reduced ∆stress (r =-.422, p = .011), and marginally associated with greater taste-test eating (r =.325, p = .057), but was not associated with ∆BI. Our findings suggest that individuals of obese BMI status may exhibit "sweet cognition," as indexed by greater attentional food bias following glucose ingestion, relative to individuals of lean BMI status. Among individuals of obese BMI status, sweet cognition may arise from difficulty broadening attention toward non-food cues after consuming a high glucose load, thereby potentially perpetuating sugar consumption. If confirmed by further research, measures of sweet cognition may help identify individuals with a phenotype of risk for obesity and greater sugar consumption, who may benefit from tailored interventions.

Keywords: Cognitive performance; Eating behavior; Food cues; Obesity; Oral glucose tolerance task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attentional Bias / drug effects*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Glucose / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Obesity / psychology*


  • Glucose