Date Awarded

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




Catherine A Forestell

Committee Member

Elizabeth B Raposa

Committee Member

Matthew R Hilimire


Obesity and overweight continue to be a growing problem in the United States and abroad. Maintaining self-control in tempting food environments is necessary in order to avoid weight gain, yet is difficult for many individuals to achieve. In order to understand how self-control resources interact with motivation to affect selective attention to foods, 128 college student participants (42 males) varied in their controlled and autonomous motivation for healthy eating were randomly assigned to either an ego-depletion (n = 61) or control manipulation (n = 67). Implicit selective attention to food stimuli was subsequently assessed using a food flanker task that contained healthy and unhealthy foods. Results showed that overall, participants responded more quickly to unhealthy food targets and experienced more distraction by unhealthy food flankers relative to healthy foods. Moreover, ego-depleted participants were faster in responding to unhealthy target food stimuli compared to healthy food stimuli, whereas those in the control group did not differ in their responses to healthy and unhealthy targets. Neither autonomous nor controlled motivation was associated with differences in attention to food stimuli and did not interact with ego-depletion. These results indicate that independent of motivations for healthy eating, reduced self-control resources lead to changes in processing speed for unhealthy food stimuli, which may have implications for subsequent consumption and ultimately weight regulation.



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