Variety Overcomes the Specificity of Cue-Potentiated Feeding in Rats

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Cue-potentiated feeding (CPF) describes the stimulation of food consumption by cues that have become associated with food. Determining under what Conditions CPF occurs is important to better understand how exposure to food cues contributes to overeating. CPF is typically found to be specific: cues enhance consumption only of the food they have signaled. Further, previous research has focused largely on discrete cues rather than multimodal cues such as a feeding environment. The present experiments paired a “Plus” context with highly palatable food and a “Minus” context with no food or chow in adult female rats. Experiment 1 confirmed that the Plus context enhanced consumption of the paired food (Froot Loops) but not a different food (banana bread). Experiments 2 and 3 tested whether pairing a variety of foods with the Plus context would overcome this specificity. In Experiment 2 the Plus context either contained bland chow (Chow group), 1 (Single group), or 3 palatable foods (Variety group). The test food, Froot Loops, was familiar but never paired with the Plus context. The Variety group exhibited CPF by eating more Froot Loops in the Plus than in the Minus context, while Single and Chow groups ate equivalently in the 2 contexts. Experiment 3 replicated this effect when the Minus context contained chow during training and when a novel food was tested. These findings have important implications for overeating given that modern food environments are typified by variety and that food consumption often occurs outside the home.

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