No effect of hunger on attentional capture by food cues: Two replication studies

Courtney Neal, Gillian V. Pepper, Caroline Allen, Daniel Nettle

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Food cues potently capture human attention, and it has been suggested that hunger increases their propensity to do so. However, the evidence for such hunger-related attentional biases is weak. We focus on one recent study that did show significantly greater attentional capture by food cues when participants were hungry, using an Emotional Blink of Attention (EBA) task [Piech, Pastorino, & Zald, 2010. Appetite, 54, 579–582]. We conducted online (N = 29) and in-person (N = 28) replications of this study with British participants and a Bayesian analytical approach. For the EBA task, participants tried to identify a rotated target image in a Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). Targets were preceded by “neutral”, “romantic”, or “food” distractor images. Participants completed the task twice, 6–11 days apart, once hungry (overnight plus 6h fast) and once sated (after a self-selected lunch in the preceding 1h). We predicted that food images would create a greater attentional blink when participants were hungry than when they were sated, but romantic and neutral images would not. We found no evidence that hunger increased attentional capture by food cues, despite our experiments passing manipulation and quality assurance checks. Our sample and stimuli differed from the study we were replicating in several ways, but we were unable to identify any specific factor responsible for the difference in results. The original finding may not be generalisable. The EBA is more sensitive to the physical distinctiveness of distractors from filler and target images than their emotional valence, undermining the sensitivity of the EBA task for picking up subtle changes in motivational state. Moreover, hunger-related attentional bias shifts may not be substantial over the intensities and durations of hunger typically induced in laboratory experiments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107065
Number of pages9
Early online date28 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023

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