Studies investigating the cognitive, behavioural, and/or neurophysiological responses to food images have commonly observed stronger effects for palatable high calorie than low calorie foods. This has been attributed to the higher incentive value of high calorie foods which in turn triggers cravings and thus affects consumption. Yet, food cravings are not solely determined by intrinsic food properties, such as calorie contents, but also depend on extrinsic factors, such as the physical availability of food items. Here we argue that in many studies the images employed to represent high and low-calorie foods often also differ systematically in their depicted readiness-to-eat (i.e., amount of preparation required before consumption) - with low calorie images more frequently showing food in an unprepared state. Thus, we aimed to assess if readiness-to-eat in food images affects self-reported cravings; and therefore, potentially amplifies response differences between food categories unmatched in this aspect. Participants (N = 224) rated images of food matched in calorie density either shown in a ready-to-eat state or in a state requiring some further preparation (cooking, unpacking or peeling, slicing). Readiness-to-eat reliably affected participants’ cravings with higher cravings for ready-to-eat foods. Furthermore, a linear regression model revealed that the size of the effect was linked to participants’ current hunger levels. Based on these findings, we recommend that future studies interested in comparing the effects of certain intrinsic food properties on cravings, should ensure that stimuli are matched for their readiness-to-eat to avoid confounding effects. Practical implications on food advertising and promotion are also discussed.
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