Inborn preference for palatable energy-dense food is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation. One way this preference manifests itself is through the control of visual attention.
In the present study, we investigated how attentional capture is influenced by changes in naturally occurring goal-states, in this case desire for energy-dense foods (typically high fat and/or high sugar). We demonstrate that even when distractors are entirely irrelevant, participants were significantly more distracted by energy-dense foods compared with non-food objects and even low-energy foods.
Additionally, we show the lability of these goal-states by having a separate set of participants consume a small amount of calorie-dense food prior to the task.
The amount of distraction by the energy-dense food images in this case was significantly reduced and no different than distraction by images of low-energy foods and images of non-food objects. While naturally occurring goal-states can be difficult to ignore, they also are highly flexible.
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