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Learn Motiv. 2008 Aug;39(3):243-255.

Sensitization and habituation of motivated behavior in overweight and non-overweight children.

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Department of Pediatrics School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo.


The rate of habituation to food is inversely related to energy intake, and overweight children may habituate slower to food and consume more energy. This study compared patterns of sensitization, as defined by an initial increase in operant or motivated responding for food, and habituation, defined by gradual reduction in responding, for macaroni and cheese and pizza in overweight and non-overweight 8-12 year-old children. Non-overweight children habituated faster to both foods than overweight children (p = 0.03). All children recovered motivated responding for a new food (chocolate). Overweight children consumed more energy than non-overweight children (p = 0.0004). Children who showed a sensitization in responding consumed more food (p = 0.001), and sensitization moderated the effect of overweight on habituation, with slower habituation for overweight children who sensitized (p < 0.0001). This study replicates previous data on overweight/non-overweight differences in habituation of food and of energy intake, and provides new information that individual differences in sensitization and habituation of motivated responding to food cues may be associated with a sustained motivation to eat, resulting in greater energy intake.

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