Too Tasty to Be Ignored: How Individual Food Preferences Affect Selective Attention

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Recent research has shown that even non-salient stimuli (colored circles) can gain attentional weight, when they have been loaded with some value through previous reward learning. The present study examined such value-based attentional weighting with intrinsically rewarding food stimuli. Different snacks were assumed to have different values for people due to individual food preferences. Participants indicated their preferences toward various snacks and then performed a flanker task with these snacks: they had to categorize a target snack as either sweet or salty; irrelevant flanker snacks were either compatible or incompatible with the target category. Results of a linear mixed-effects model show that the effect of flanker compatibility on participants’ performance (response times) increased with the participants’ preference toward the flanking snacks. This shows, for the first time, that attentional weightings in a flanker task with naturalistic stimuli (snacks) are modulated by participants’ preferences toward the flankers.

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