A systematic review of the relationship between eating, weight and inhibitory control using the stop signal task

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Altered inhibitory control (response inhibition, reward-based inhibition, cognitive inhibition, reversal learning) has been implicated in eating disorders (EDs) and obesity. It is unclear, however, how different types of inhibitory control contribute to eating and weight-control behaviours. This review evaluates the relationship between one aspect of inhibitory control (a reactive component of motor response inhibition measured by the stop signal task) and eating/weight in clinical and non-clinical populations. Sixty-two studies from 58 journal articles were included. Restrained eaters had diminished reactive inhibitory control compared to unrestrained eaters, and showed greatest benefit to their eating behaviour from manipulations of inhibitory control. Obese individuals may show less reactive inhibitory control but only in the context of food-specific inhibition or after executive resources are depleted. Of the limited studies in EDs, the majority found no impairment in reactive inhibitory control, although findings are inconsistent. Thus, altered reactive inhibitory control is related to some maladaptive eating behaviours, and hence may provide a therapeutic target for behavioural manipulations and/or neuromodulation. However, other types of inhibitory control may also contribute. Methodological and theoretical considerations are discussed.

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