Behavioural measures and training interventions for food-related cognition, motivation and affect


The rise in overweight and obesity rates over the past decades can primarily be attributed to the over-consumption of unhealthy energy-dense foods. Understanding the determinants of eating behaviours is therefore paramount for helping individuals reduce their intake of unhealthy foods and make healthier choices. According to a dual-process framework of behaviour, individuals with lower inhibitory control may be more vulnerable to implicit influences on their actions, such as strong approach bias and automatic affective reactions towards cues in the environment. Automatic and controlled processes within this framework can be assessed using direct and indirect measures and there have been recent advancements in the development of behaviour change interventions, such as inhibitory control training (ICT). Chapter 1 of this thesis reviews the theory and methods surrounding cognitive control of eating behaviours. Chapter 2 reports an experiment on the effect of ICT on food evaluations, impulsive choices and automatic action tendencies. Although training had the expected effect on food choices, it did not reduce participants’ approach bias towards unhealthy foods. Chapter 3 describes a study which provided evidence for the feasibility and potential effectiveness of a novel ICT paradigm for reducing unhealthy food evaluations and cravings. The study presented in Chapter 4 investigates the methodological validity of the affective priming paradigm (APP) as an indirect measure of food liking in the context of healthy and unhealthy foods. The APP was found to be robust in two cohorts of participants (direct replication), but its predictive utility for food choice behaviour requires further investigation. Chapter 5 shows that ICT can reduce individuals’ food evaluations at both an explicit and implicit level (via the APP). In Chapter 6, these research findings are discussed in relation to theory and methods, together with general limitations and directions for future empirical and applied research.

Loukia Tzavella

📚 My research interests include experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, implicit cognition, reproducibility and metascience.