★ Individual neurobehavioral differences may predispose to obesity. ★ The evidence relating specific behavioral measures and eating or BMI is reviewed. ★ Certain executive function and food motivation tasks are reliable and predictive. ★ Many relevant questionnaire measures tap similar personality factors. ★ We identify measures indexing key behavioral differences predisposing to higher BMI.
The worldwide increase in obesity has spurred numerous efforts to understand the regulation of eating behaviours and underlying brain mechanisms. These mechanisms can affordably be studied via neurobehavioural measures. Here, we systematically review these efforts, evaluating neurocognitive tests and personality questionnaires based on: (a) consistent relationship with obesity and eating behaviour, and (b) reliability. We also considered the measures’ potential to shed light on the brain mechanisms underlying these individual differences. Sixty-six neurocognitive tasks were examined. Less than 11%, mainly measures of executive functions and food motivation, yielded both replicated and reliable effects. Several different personality questionnaires were consistently related to BMI. However, further analysis found that many of these questionnaires relate closely to Conscientiousness, Extraversion and Neuroticism within the Five-Factor Model of personality. Both neurocognitive tests and personality questionnaires suggest that the critical neural systems related to individual differences in obesity are lateral prefrontal structures underpinning self-control and striatal regions implicated in food motivation. This review can guide selection of the highest yield neurobehavioural measures for future studies.