Training Impulsive Choices for Healthy and Sustainable Food

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Abstract

Many people find it hard to change their dietary choices. Food choice often occurs impulsively, without deliberation, and it has been unclear whether impulsive food choice can be experimentally created. Across 3 exploratory and 2 confirmatory preregistered experiments we examined whether impulsive food choice can be trained. Participants were cued to make motor responses upon the presentation of, among others, healthy and sustainable food items. They subsequently selected these food items more often for actual consumption when they needed to make their choices impulsively as a result of time pressure. This effect disappeared when participants were asked to think about their choices, merely received more time to make their choices, or when choosing required attention to alternatives. Participants preferred high to low valued food items under time pressure and without time pressure, suggesting that the impulsive choices reflect valid preferences. These findings demonstrate that it is possible to train impulsive choices for food items while leaving deliberative choices for these items unaffected, and connect research on attention training to dual-process theories of decision making. The present research suggests that attention training may lead to behavioral change only when people behave impulsively.

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