Cognitive load, stress, and disinhibited eating

Paul Lattimore, Linda Maxwell
Eating Behaviors 2004, 5 (4): 315-24
The impact of cognitive distraction on eating behaviour was examined in restrained and unrestrained eaters. It was predicted that restrained eaters would eat more than unrestrained eaters following high cognitive load when it involves processing of ego-threat information independent of self-reported anxiety. There were 119 female participants randomly allocated to one of four experimental conditions whereby cognitive load and ego threat were manipulated using modified colour-naming Stroop (CNS) tasks. Anxiety ratings were made prior to and following experimental tasks. After performing Stroop tasks, participants consumed snack foods ad libitum. Restrained eaters consumed significantly more food when high cognitive load was ego threatening than when it involved processing and memorisation of colour nouns and consumed significantly more than unrestrained eaters in a high cognitive load ego-threat condition. Posttask anxiety was greater than baseline across all conditions. Task difficulty was greater under high cognitive load than low cognitive load as indicated by Stroop response times. These results indicated that the escape theory of disinhibited eating is conceptually subsumed by a more generalisable limited cognitive capacity model.

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