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Habit makes bad food too easy to swallow
Date:9/1/2011

esearchers controlled for hunger and whether the participants liked the popcorn they received. The researchers also gave popcorn to a control group watching movie clips in a meeting room, rather than in a movie theater.

In the meeting room, a space not usually associated with popcorn, it mattered a lot if the popcorn tasted good. Outside of the movie theater context, even habitual movie popcorn eaters ate much less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn, demonstrating the extent to which environmental cues can trigger automatic eating behavior.

"The results show just how powerful our environment can be in triggering unhealthy behavior," Neal said. "Sometimes willpower and good intentions are not enough, and we need to trick our brains by controlling the environment instead."

In another movie theater experiment, the researchers tested a simple disruption of automatic eating habits. Once again using stale and fresh popcorn, the researchers asked participants about to enter a film screening to eat popcorn either with their dominant or non-dominant hand.

Using the non-dominant hand seemed to disrupt eating habits and cause people to pay attention to what they were eating. When using the non-dominant hand, moviegoers ate much less of the stale than the fresh popcorn, and this worked even for those with strong eating habits.

"It's not always feasible for dieters to avoid or alter the environments in which they typically overeat," Wood said. "More feasible, perhaps, is for dieters top actively disrupt the established patterns of how they eat through simple techniques, such as switching the hand they use to eat."


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Contact: Suzanne Wu
suzanne.wu@usc.edu
213-740-0252
University of Southern California
Source:Eurekalert

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