Conflicting Internal and External Eating Cues: Impact on Food Intake and Attributions

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Abstract

Objective: Social factors have a powerful influence on people’s food intake but people typically fail to acknowledge the influence of such external cues, instead explaining their food intake in terms of factors such as how hungry they are. We examined whether the tendency to explain one’s food intake in terms of internal cues (i.e., hunger) rather than external cues (i.e., other people’s behavior) would be apparent when those cues are in conflict with one another. Method: Female participants (n = 104) took part in a pizza taste test after having been food deprived for 18-hr or after consuming a meal-replacement preload. Half of the participants were also exposed to a social norm that conflicted with their deprivation condition: deprived participants were exposed to a low-intake norm, whereas preloaded participants were exposed to a high-intake norm. After completing the taste test, participants indicated the extent to which their food intake was influence by how hungry they were and how much other people ate. Results: Deprived participants ate less when exposed to a low-intake norm than when no norm was present, but reported that the behaviors of others had no impact on their food intake. In contrast, preloaded participants did not eat significantly more when exposed to a high-intake norm, but reported that the behavior of others made them eat more. Conclusions: Participants are generally inaccurate in the attributions they make for their food intake, and we suggest that these inaccuracies may be because of motivated misreporting.

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