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Eating behavior is influenced by the unconscious mind

Visual cues affect our eating patterns whether we are aware of these signals or not, according to a study from Osaka Metropolitan University. The research suggests that unconscious neural processes have a big influence on what foods we crave, making it difficult to control our eating behavior.

“Obesity is a serious health problem in modern society. Considering the fact that the outcomes of treatments targeting appetitive behavior are suboptimal, one potential reason proposed for these poor outcomes is that appetitive behavior is driven more by unconscious decision-making processes than by the conscious ones targeted by traditional behavioral treatments,” wrote the researchers.

“In this study, we aimed to investigate both the conscious and unconscious decision-making processes related to eating behavior, and to examine whether an interaction related to eating behavior exists between conscious and unconscious neural processes.”

The research was focused on healthy male participants who were presented with images of food and non-food items. The volunteers viewed the photos both consciously and unconsciously.

The inferior frontal gyrus is a region of the brain’s frontal lobe that controls eating behavior. The study revealed that in this brain region, the neural response to food stimuli depended on whether the images were presented consciously or unconsciously.

According to the researchers, the results indicate that eating behavior cannot be understood without taking into account both unconscious and conscious neural processes.

“The interactions were associated with eating behavior indices such as emotional eating and cognitive restraint, suggesting that conscious and unconscious neural processes are differently involved in eating behavior,” wrote the study authors.

“These findings provide valuable clues for devising methods to assess conscious and unconscious appetite regulation in individuals with normal or abnormal eating behavior.”

“If we can learn more in future research about how eating behavior is controlled by unconscious neural processes, we can combine that understanding with our current knowledge of conscious neural processes to potentially develop more effective methods for regulating eating behavior,” said Professor Takahiro Yoshikawa, who led the research team.

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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