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Physiol Behav. 2010 Nov 2;101(4):446-55. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.07.010. Epub 2010 Jul 27.

Diet choice, cortisol reactivity, and emotional feeding in socially housed rhesus monkeys.

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Department of Animal Resources, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Chronic psychosocial stress produces an array of adverse health consequences that are highly comorbid, including emotional eating, affective disorders, and metabolic syndrome. The consumption of high caloric diets (HCDs) is thought to provide comfort in the face of unrelenting psychosocial stress. Using social subordination in female rhesus monkeys as a model of continual exposure to daily stressors in women, we tested the hypothesis that subordinate females would consume significantly more calories from a HCD compared to dominant females, and this pattern of food intake would be associated with reduced cortisol release and reduced frequency of anxiety-like behaviors. Food intake, parameters of cortisol secretion, and socio-emotional behavior were assessed for 3 weeks during a no choice phase when only a low caloric diet (LCD) was available and during a choice condition when both a LCD and HCD were available. While all animals preferred the HCD, subordinate females consumed significantly more of the HCD than did dominant females. A flattening of the diurnal cortisol rhythm and a greater increase in serum cortisol to an acute social separation occurred during the diet choice condition in all females. Furthermore, the rate of anxiety-like behavior progressively declined during the 3-week choice condition in subordinate but not dominant females. These data provide support for the hypothesis that daily exposure to psychosocial stress increases consumption of calorically dense foods. Furthermore, consumption of HCDs may be a metabolic stressor that synergizes with the psychosocial stress of subordination to further increase the consumption of these diets.

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