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The power of social influence over food intake: examining the effects of attentional bias and impulsivity

  • Roel C. J. Hermans (a1), Junilla K. Larsen (a1), Kirsten Lochbuehler (a1), Chantal Nederkoorn (a2), C. Peter Herman (a3) and Rutger C. M. E. Engels (a1)...

Numerous studies have shown that people adjust their intake directly to that of their eating companions. A potential explanation for this modelling effect is that the eating behaviour of others operates as an external eating cue that stimulates food intake. The present study explored whether this cue-reactive mechanism can account for modelling effects on intake. It was investigated whether attentional bias towards dynamic eating cues and impulsivity would influence the degree of modelling. Participants completed one individual session and one session in which an experimental confederate accompanied them. In the first session, eye movements were recorded as an index of attentional bias to dynamic eating cues. In addition, self-reported impulsivity and response inhibition were assessed. The second session employed a between-participants design with three experimental conditions in which participants were exposed to a same-sex confederate instructed to eat nothing, a low or a large amount of M&Ms. A total of eighty-five young women participated. The participants' self-reported impulsivity determined the occurrence of modelling; only low-impulsive women adjusted their intake to that of their eating companion. Attention towards eating cues and response inhibition, however, did not moderate modelling of food intake. The present study suggests that cue-reactive mechanisms may not underlie modelling of food intake. Instead, the results emphasise the importance of social norms in explaining modelling effects, whereas it is suggested that the degree of impulsivity may play a role in whether or not women adhere to the intake norms set by their eating companion.

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*Corresponding author: Dr R. C. J. Hermans, fax +31 24 3612776, E-mail:
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British Journal of Nutrition
  • ISSN: 0007-1145
  • EISSN: 1475-2662
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