Junk food evokes positive feelings

Most people tend to automatically associate junk food with positive feelings, scientists say.

PTI| Updated: Dec 29, 2014, 18:27 PM IST

Melbourne: Most people tend to automatically associate junk food with positive feelings, scientists say.

Researchers found that overcoming the temptation to eat unhealthy snack foods is thwarted by the positive thoughts many of us associate with junk food.

Despite having the motivation to do so, many individuals struggle to successfully minimise their consumption of unhealthy snack foods, said co-author Ashleigh Haynes, a PhD student in applied cognitive psychology at Flinders University.

"Unfortunately, they're the (foods) we tend to find most attractive and enjoyable to eat," she said.

Most people tend to automatically associate unhealthy snack foods with positive feelings and concepts, said Haynes, adding this may have roots in evolution and our life experiences, 'ABC News' reported.

"The aim of this recent study was to investigate how our automatic evaluation of food (as positive or negative), and the experience of temptation, interact to influence unhealthy snack consumption," said Haynes.

She and colleagues presented 192 people with four unhealthy junk foods and then got them to rate how much they felt tempted by them on a scale of 1 to 7.

The researchers then got the participants to associate the foods with positive and negative words to assess their 'implicit evaluation' of the foods.

Finally, they measured how much of the foods the participants ate in a 10 minute period.

"The more negative implicit evaluation of food, the less tempted people felt and the less of the food they ate," said Haynes.

Haynes said there is evidence that it is possible to re-train the associations the brain makes with junk food.

"Instead of associating unhealthy foods with positive concepts, we can associate them with more negative concepts in an attempt to reduce the strength of temptation experienced and therefore more successfully minimise snack food consumption," she said.

The findings are published in the journal Psychology and Health.