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Eat Behav. 2012 Dec;13(4):371-4. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2012.07.004. Epub 2012 Jul 16.

The relationship between eating-related individual differences and visual attention to foods high in added fat and sugar.

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Department of Psychology, Yale University, 2 Hillhouse Ave. New Haven, CT 06511, United States.



Attentional biases for food-related stimuli may be associated separately with obesity, disordered eating, and hunger. We tested an integrative model that simultaneously examines the association of body mass index (BMI), disordered eating and hunger with food-related visual attention to processed foods that differ in added fat/sugar level (e.g., sweets, candies, fried foods) relative to minimally processed foods (e.g., fruits, meats/nuts, vegetables) that are lower in fat/sugar content.


One-hundred overweight or obese women, ages 18-50, completed a food-related visual search task and measures associated with eating behavior. Height and weight were measured.


Higher levels of hunger significantly predicted increased vigilance for sweets and candy and increased vigilance for fried foods at a trend level. Elevated hunger was associated significantly with decreased dwell time on fried foods and, at a trend level, with decreased dwell time on sweets. Higher BMIs emerged as a significant predictor of decreased vigilance for fried foods, but BMI was not related to dwell time. Disordered eating was unrelated to vigilance for or dwell time on unhealthy food types.


This pattern of findings suggests that low-level attentional biases may contribute to difficulties making healthier food choices in the current food environment and may point toward useful strategies to reduce excess food consumption.

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