Keeping the Holiday Pounds Off

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 | 8:17 pm

…Oh, the never-ending struggle between choosing a tasty, calorie-laden food or a healthier option — especially during the holiday season!

Now, Caltech neuroscientists have developed an easy-to-use, inexpensive software methodology that allows them to measure, in real-time, the Time at which different attributes of a choice – such as the “tastiness” or the “healthiness” of a food — begin to influence the choice process.

The researchers’ new study suggests that waiting several seconds before reaching for an unhealthy item, may help one to select the healthier option, and to reject the “fattening” item.

The study is a breakthrough in how psychologists and neuroscientists track decisions that the brain makes in mere split seconds, since motor movements and cognition occur almost in parallel.

Tracking “taste” and “healthiness” factors, utilizing computational modeling, the research methodology recorded the position of a simple computer mouse, as participants, who had fasted for four hours, made real choices about what foods to eat. The subjects were shown two images of foods, and had to select one, in 280 consecutive trials.

The researchers found that “taste” begins to influence the decision process, on average, about 200 milliseconds earliest than “health” does. They also found that the earlier that taste began to influence the choice process, and the later health did, the worse the participants were at picking the healthier food. The researchers found that taste and health processing speeds are a major contributor to dietary self-control, or lack thereof.

Study findings will appear in the journal Psychological Science on December 12th.

If interested to speak to the researchers, neuroscientist Dr. Antonio Rangel, or lead author Nicolette Sullivan, on these interesting findings, contact the author at debwms@caltech.edu or (626) 395-3227. Interested to participate? Come into the lab to be tested in an interactive demonstration.

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