Thought for Food: Imagined Consumption Reduces Actual Consumption

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Science  10 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6010, pp. 1530-1533
DOI: 10.1126/science.1195701

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All in the Mind

Pavlov's experiments, in which dogs salivate in anticipation of food, mirror our own imagined experience; that is, thinking about the future consumption of chocolate enhances our desire for it and our motivation to obtain it. After several bites, however, our appetite usually wanes and the offer of a second bar is less appealing than the first. Morewedge et al. (p. 1530) show that the decrease in hedonic response can also be induced by having imagined eating the first bar of chocolate. In comparisons of subjects asked to imagine the repetitive consumption of candy or cheese, they observed a specific drop in the amount consumed when subjects were actually offered the previously imagined foods to eat.


The consumption of a food typically leads to a decrease in its subsequent intake through habituation—a decrease in one’s responsiveness to the food and motivation to obtain it. We demonstrated that habituation to a food item can occur even when its consumption is merely imagined. Five experiments showed that people who repeatedly imagined eating a food (such as cheese) many times subsequently consumed less of the imagined food than did people who repeatedly imagined eating that food fewer times, imagined eating a different food (such as candy), or did not imagine eating a food. They did so because they desired to eat it less, not because they considered it less palatable. These results suggest that mental representation alone can engender habituation to a stimulus.

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