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Distractions Make it Difficult for Snackers to Know When They are Full

PsychCentral 2020-08-19 16:30:25
Home » News » Distractions Make it Difficult for Snackers to Know When They are Full By Janice Wood
Associate News Editor Last updated: 18 Aug 2020  ~ 2 min read

Eating while doing something perceptually demanding like watching TV, reading, or playing video games, makes it more difficult to notice when you feel full, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Sussex in England found that when your senses are taken up by an engaging task, you are less likely to be aware of how much extra food or drink you consume.

For their study, the researchers tested 120 participants, giving them lower and higher calorie drinks and giving them tasks that demanded both low and high amounts of their attention.

The researchers found that participants who were fully engaged in a perceptually demanding task ate roughly the same amount of follow-up crisps regardless of whether they were initially given a high or low calorie drink.

But the people who were engaged in a task that demanded less of them could adjust how much of the additional snack they ate. The people in this group ate 45 percent fewer crisps after the higher energy drink than after the lower energy drink, according to the study’s findings.

Previous research has shown that when perceptual demand is high — where the senses are engaged fully — the brain filters out some of the sensory information. This is the first time that research has shown that sensory and nutrient cues associated with becoming full could be filtered out in a similar way, according to the researchers.

“Our study suggests that if you’re eating or drinking while your attention is distracted by a highly engaging task, you’re less likely to be able to tell how full you feel,” said Professor Martin Yeomans from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex. “You’re more likely to keep snacking than if you’d been eating while doing something less engaging. This is important for anyone wanting to stay a healthy weight: If you’re a habitual TV-watching snacker — watching, say, an engaging thriller or mystery, or a film with a lot of audio or visual effects — you’re not likely to notice when you feel full. Video-gamers and crossword solvers should also take note.”

“We already knew that feeling full could be affected by the texture and appearance of food, as well as pre-existing expectations about how full we think a type of food should make us feel,” he continued. “Now we also know that feeling full depends on how much sensory information our brains are processing at the time.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 120 participants, who drank either a low-satiety (75kcal) or high-satiety (272kcal and thicker texture) drink while simultaneously completing a task that was either low or high in perceptual demand.

The participants who were given the low perceptual load task, and were given the high-satiety drink, felt more full and ate 45 percent less of the snack offered to them afterwards, according to the study’s findings.

However, the participants who were given the higher load perception task were less able to tell when they felt full, and ate more of the snacks offered to them, the researchers discovered.

The researchers conclude that a person’s ability to notice when the body feels full depends on how much available attention is “left” in the brain.

The results provide the first evidence that Load Theory of Attention — the idea that a person has a limited amount of sensory information they can notice — can be successfully applied to eating habits, the researchers noted.

The study was published in the journal Appetite.

Source: University of Sussex

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Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Distractions Make it Difficult for Snackers to Know When They are Full. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 19, 2020, from Last updated: 18 Aug 2020 (Originally: 19 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Aug 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.