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More PsychNotes: Weight Control and Body Image

February 7, 2017       
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How Something Tastes is Influenced By Your Thinking
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

pieces of chocolate
For most people, the taste of good food or drink is rewarding. And as with anything that is pleasurable, we tend to make choices based on what is most rewarding. However, did you know that the specific food or drink that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain the most is influenced by how you think about those items (van Rijn, et al., 2017)?

For example, most people have a preference for either Pepsi or Coke—the pleasure region of the brain responds when drinking their preferred beverage. However, when they are given blind taste tests, the brain's reaction shows no preference of one over the other. Therefore, our taste preferences and even the physiological reaction of the brain is affected by how we think. Flavor is enhanced by how you think of the product.

Why is this important?

Changing your thinking about foods can influence how much pleasure you derive from them. So, when people develop an interest in healthy foods they experience more reward from those foods. When people attach a negative association to a food they get less reward from that food. For instance, if you become sick after eating a favorite food, you might be less likely to find that food desirable even if it didn't cause your illness.

By deliberately creating positive associations to healthy foods you can begin to experience greater pleasure eating those foods. Doing so increases the likelihood of better food choices.

Excel At Life's audio Creating Awareness of Overeating Consequences helps change attitudes towards certain foods (and eating behavior) by focusing on the immediate negative consequences of overeating those foods. It also pairs pleasurable physical reactions with healthy food choices.

van Rijn, I., Wegman, J., Aarts, E., de Graaf, C. and Smeets, P.A.M. (2017). Health Interest Modulates Brain Reward Responses to a Perceived Low-Caloric Beverage in Females. Health Psychology, 36, 65–72. DOI:10.1037/hea0000411


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