The goal of the present study was to determine whether female restrained and unrestrained eaters demonstrated differential levels of attentional bias to high calorie foods when they were presented as distractors in a flanker task. This task consisted of four blocks of 68 trials in which three food pictures were briefly presented simultaneously on a computer screen. On each trial a high or low calorie target food was presented in the center of a pair of high or low calorie food flanker pictures and participants’ reaction times to answer a basic question about whether they would consume the target food for breakfast were recorded. In Experiment 1, in which all participants were fed a snack prior to engaging in the flanker task, there was no evidence that restrained (n = 29) or unrestrained (n = 37) eaters had an attentional bias. However, in Experiment 2, when participants completed the flanker task while hungry, restrained eaters (n = 27) experienced response conflict only when low calorie targets were flanked by high calorie distractors, whereas unrestrained eaters (n = 46) were distracted by high calorie flankers regardless of the caloric content of the target cue. The results from this implicit task indicate that flankers interfere with hungry participants’ responses to varying degrees depending on their cognitive restraint. Whether attentional bias to food cues subsequently affects food choices and eating behavior is a topic for further investigation.
Forestell, Catherine A.; Lau, Pia; Gyurovski, Ivo I.; Dickter, Cheryl L.; and Haque, Sabrina S., Attentional Biases to Foods: The Effects of Caloric Content and Cognitive Restraint (2012). Appetite, 59(3), 748-754.