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Appetite. 2016 Sep 1;104:10-7. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.003. Epub 2015 Oct 13.

Cognitive processing of food rewards.

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School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, United Kingdom. Electronic address:


Cues associated with tasty foods, such as their smell or taste, are strong motivators of eating, but the power of food cues on behaviour varies from moment to moment and from person to person. Variation in the rewarding value of a food with metabolic state explains why food cues are more attractive when hungry. However, cognitive processes are also important determinants of our responses to food cues. An urge to consume a tempting food may be resisted if, for example, a person has a longer term goal of weight loss. There is also evidence that responses to food cues can be facilitated or inhibited by memory processes. The aim of this review is to add to the literature on cognitive control of eating by reviewing recent evidence on the influence of working memory and episodic memory processes on responses to food cues. It is argued that processing of food information in working memory affects how much attention is paid to food cues in the environment and promotes the motivation to seek out food in the absence of direct contact with food cues. It is further argued that memories of specific recent eating episodes play an important role in directing food choices and influencing when and how much we eat. However, these memory processes are prone to disruption. When this happens, eating behaviour may become more cue-driven and less flexible. In the modern food environment, disruption of cognitive processing of food reward cues may lead to overconsumption and obesity.


Attention; Cognition; Expectations; Food reward; Memory

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